NIF: 'A legitimate force that supports Israel' – Jewish News op-ed by Ilana Snyder

The following op-ed was published in the Australian Jewish News on Thursday September 22. You can see the original here.

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NIF: 'A legitimate force that supports Israel'

By: Dr Ilana Snyder, President of NIF Australia

In August, the Perth Jewish community’s newspaper, The Maccabean, refused to place an ad by the New Israel Fund (NIF) for a screening of The Silver Platter. This acclaimed TV series was seen by 1.5 million Israelis in 2015. When we asked the editor for an explanation, none was provided.

Despite this act of censorship, the screening in Perth was well attended and followed by a lively discussion about economic inequality in Israel. The focus on corruption in Israel and the power of the banks resonated with Australian viewers who are fed up with the arrogance of our banks and their apparent immunity from accountability.

There have been repeated attempts to demonise the NIF since it was established in Australia in 2011. Critics continue to manufacture controversy about our values and the organisations we support. As president of NIF in Australia, I have written this article to set the record straight.

NIF is an international organisation that has worked ceaselessly since 1979 to promote equality and democracy in Israel. NIF seeks a homeland for the Jewish people that protects the human rights of all its citizens. Yet it is for this endeavour that we are most often censured.

NIF functions not only as a grant-maker (about US$25 million per year to more than 100 non-profits), but through our operational arm, Shatil, we work with hundreds of non-profits to increase their effectiveness on issues such as religious pluralism, civil and human rights, and social and economic justice.

Some of the organisations NIF supports challenge our thinking about Israel. Such organisations shine a light on things that may make us feel uncomfortable. However, their work is very important as Israeli society, like all societies, can only achieve its potential if it is subjected to scrutiny.

There are some in the Jewish community who believe that we should remain silent about challenges to social justice in Israel as it amounts to airing our dirty laundry in public. While it is fine for Israelis to criticise their government’s policies, it isn’t for us in the Diaspora. But more and more people are joining NIF because they want to be part of the conversations that our friends in Israel are having. At NIF, we believe that the best way to love Israel is to join, rather than ignore, the sometimes difficult discussions about government policies.

To set the record straight, NIF does not support the global BDS movement, a lie repeated to marginalise our impact in the Jewish community. As an academic, I have seen first-hand how the BDS has destroyed the careers of people working in Israeli universities. The irony is that academics, a primary target of BDS, have been amongst the most outspoken critics of government policy in Israel.

But NIF does support organisations whose work highlights how the occupation affects Israel’s values through the treatment of its Arab citizens and Palestinians in the occupied territories. NIF stands for democracy, an end to the occupation, and freedom of conscience and expression for activists and ordinary Israelis. We support the efforts of our grantees to expose the terrible cost of the occupation, for Palestinians and Israelis.

People may not agree with every cause that NIF supports. However, it is wrong to question the organisation’s commitment and loyalty to the Jewish state. NIF’s International Council includes former Knesset members, retired IDF generals, rabbis and some of Israel’s most famous authors and artists. In Australia, our Advisory Council and patrons include a former US ambassador to Israel and a retired federal court judge. Their Zionist credentials are beyond challenge.

Attacks on NIF reflect a disturbing development in contemporary Jewish life in Australia. Rather than disagree in a civil and respectful way and engage in constructive debate and dialogue there are false claims and ad hominem attacks. The Jewish community should not tolerate such behaviour.

Some leaders in the Jewish community may be irritated with our approach, but we are a legitimate force that supports Israel. NIF donors and supporters believe in the democratic values that Israel was founded on and swear by Israel’s Declaration of Independence which insists on “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” and promises “full and equal citizenship” to Israeli Arabs.

The New Israel Fund is not an organisation for everybody because inevitably it’s involved in edgy issues. This is the way social progress is achieved. There are going to be people in the community who feel more comfortable supporting establishment organisations and that’s as it should be. We are all working for the same basic objective – Israel’s well-being. But for people who care about social issues, who care about the strength of Israel’s democracy, who care about equality in Israel, NIF is the best possible way to support Israel.

Dr Ilana Snyder is president of the New Israel Fund Australia Foundation.