JTA is reporting the final version of New Israel Fund’s new funding guidelines. When last I spoke with an NIF representative I was assured that the guidelines would not do precisely what these do:
Groups that work to “deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel” will not be eligible for New Israel Fund moneys.
…NIF director Daniel Sokatch…said the language would prohibit proposals for a binational constitution of the kind that two NIF grantees submitted several years ago.
“If we had an organization that made part of its project, part of its mission an effort to really genuinely organize on behalf of creating a constitution that denied Israel as a sovereign vehicle for self-determination for the Jewish people, a Jewish homeland, if that became the focus of one of our organizations, we would not support that organization,” he said.
Sokatch is referring to Adalah’s Democratic Constitution, a proposal for a new Israeli constitution that would guarantee equal rights for Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens. The Constitution is NOT a proposal for a binational state. In fact, the document itself calls for a “multicultural and bilingual” state, not a binational one. Rather, it is a proposal for a unitary state in which the rights of all ethnic groups are respected and equal.
This is the same Palestinian political activism which caused Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin to announce that he would treat such Palestinian nationalism as akin to undermining the state. Further he announced that whether political activity on behalf of the project was legal or not, he would treat it as criminal–and he has been true to his word.
So, in effect, NIF has been cowed and bowed to the will of the state’s security apparatus and defined Palestinian nationalism as unworthy of its financial support.
Sokatch rather lamely appends a ‘clarification’ saying that NIF wasn’t punishing Palestinians for their political views, but rather for their activism:
He added…that NIF would not deny funds to grantees that had philosophical disagreements. The difference, he suggested, was in a grantee’s activism, not in the views of its directors.
Frankly, I don’t have a clue what this means nor can Sokatch if he said what is paraphrased here. I should add that knowing what I do about the quality of some JTA reporting, it’s entirely possible that the NIF director made a more coherent, articulate statement than this. But if this is what he said, then it is the lamest, most halfed-assed, confusing statement I’ve read from a so-called progressive organization in ages. Can anyone genuinely tell me what Israel “as a sovereign vehicle for self-determination for the Jewish people” means? It’s little more than mumbo-jumbo.
Frankly, as far as NIF is concerned Azmi Bishara’s vision of Israel as a state for all its citizens is dead. Israel wants a state for its Jewish citizens under which Palestinians citizens are suffered. Yes, NIF claims it favors equality of all citizens, but it really supports the predominance of Jews in national life.
If Sokatch doesn’t understand that the proposed new Israeli constitution was an attempt to realize the political-ethnic aspirations of Israel’s Palestinian minority and NOT a threat to Israel as a Jewish homeland then he’s either ignorant or worse. This is my lowest moment in an ambivlent relationship with NIF. I cannot in good conscience support it’s work when it turns it back on its Palestinian grantees and an entire Palestinian NGO community. I would urge these grantees to unite and protest this terrible formulation of the guidelines. I can’t help but think if most of the Palestinian and even perhaps a few Jewish grantees refuse to apply for funding that this will send a shock through the system.
Until today, an NIF slogan graced my sidebar. In Hebrew it said, “We will not shut out mouths.” I was proud of NIF for standing up to the Im Tirzu bullies with that statement. But these new guidelines essentially tell Palestinian NGOs that there are red lines and that they too better shut up about promoting too democratic an Israeli state; otherwise they’ll lose their funding, as it appears may happen to Adalah (if it currently receives any).
What I’d really like to see is a new NGO grantmaker without such constraining ideological blinders filling their funding guidelines. I only wish I personally had the funding to create such a group.
I would encourage my readers who may have given to NIF in the past not to do so unless and until the guidelines are changed; and instead to contribute to individual Palestinian and Jewish NGOs. I have lists of worthy ones here and here. This list was compiled years ago and can’t attest whether every link will be active now.
I would especially encourage you to make a gift to Adalah (as I will) as the initiator of this important initiative to create an egalitarian Israeli constitution with a vision of two peoples living together in a single state. If NIF is turning its back on Palestinian groups like it, let’s set a proper example and perhaps induce a bit of shame for this betrayal.