Dr Ron Weiser has made a number of incorrect and misleading public statements about NIF this year and his latest article in J-Wire contains more.
NIF has expressly based itself, from its foundation in 1979 to the present day, on Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which speaks unequivocally of a Jewish state that is also democratic and does not discriminate against minorities, Jewish or non-Jewish.
That commitment is a matter of record, was restated publicly on several occasions by Prof Naomi Chazan, speaking as President of NIF, during her visit this year to Australia and was underlined by her in highly public fashion at the Sydney Opera House in June when, again speaking as NIF’s President, she emphatically rejected the Palestinian speakers’ demands for a Palestinian right of physical return, because implementation of a physical right of return could mean the end of the Jewish State and “we are not in the business of committing suicide”.
It is simply not correct to say, as Dr Weiser does, that the statement NIF issued this week is “a first and is a radical departure from previous NIF positions” or that NIF’s Australian branch needs to be convinced “to also come on board with the same vision”.
Six weeks ago, four representatives of NIFAu explained NIF’s longstanding support for a Jewish democratic state in detail at a open meeting with Dr Weiser and I then sent him a lengthy email (see below) which referred to the Opera House debate, listed other similarly emphatic public and private statements by both NIF and NIFAu in support of a democratic Jewish state, and concluded on this topic with the following words:
"Now that you have read the above analysis of the NIF principle [stated on NIF’s website], and been reminded of these multiple public statements, I trust you will not assert again, as you did at Emanuel Synagogue on 17 July, that NIF or NIFAu does not support Israel as the Jewish State.
You also agreed at our meeting last Thursday that if we do support Israel as the Jewish State, we are within your red line, from which it follows that disagreements between us and you about whether or not NIF should be funding certain grantees – there are sure to be some – should fairly be characterised as disagreements between well-intentioned people about what is the best way to support Israel as the Jewish State. I hope that will be acknowledged by you in any future discussion you participate in about NIF or NIFAu."
Mercifully, in his latest comment, Dr Weiser has at last conceded that NIF does support a Jewish state and is thus within his only “so called red line”.
Now that this “red line” sideshow is over, we in Australia will continue to support the important work that NIF does as the leading organisation committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis. Recent developments in Israeli civil society offer encouragement and renewed hope in that regard.
Robin Margo S.C.
President, New Israel Fund (Australia)
Full text of e-mail from Robin Margo to Ron Weiser:
From: Robin Margo
Sent: Friday, 29 July 2011 4:28 PM
To: 'Ron Weiser'
Subject: Re: NIF/NIFAu support for Israel as the Jewish State
Thank you for our meeting last Thursday. I confess I had low expectations before it, given your continuing speaking campaign against NIF, but the event proved me wrong. I feel we did have a sincere exchange of views, in a respectful way, and I thank you for your contribution to that. I write also to follow up on some of the matters we discussed.
The following is a publicly stated guiding principle of NIF, copied and pasted from its website (emphasis added):
The New Israel Fund is dedicated to the vision of the State of Israel as the sovereign expression of the right of self-determination of the Jewish people.
To allay any concerns you may previously have had about the meaning of these words, please note the following:
- The express reference to “the State of Israel”, nothing less, as the subject matter of the principle.
- The express reference to that State as “sovereign”, the Macquarie Dictionary definition of “sovereign” being as follows:
noun 1. someone who has sovereign power or authority, especially a monarch.
2. a group or body of persons or a state possessing sovereign authority.
3. a former British gold coin.
–adjective 4. belonging to or characteristic of a sovereign or sovereignty.
5. involving a nation: a sovereign risk agreement.
6. supreme, as power, authority, etc.: a sovereign land.
7. greatest in degree; pre-eminent: a sovereign right.
8. efficacious or potent, as a remedy: a sovereign remedy. [Middle English, from Old French soverain, from Latin super above]
As you can see, the pervading concepts of “sovereignty” are supreme power or authority, statehood and nationhood, meanings reinforced in the principle by the word “State” itself.
- The Macquarie Dictionary definition of “self determination”, namely:
noun 1. determination by oneself or itself, without outside influence.
2. the determining by a people or nationality of the form of government it shall have, without reference to the wishes of any other nation.
Again, the pervading concepts are of supremacy, peoplehood and nationhood.
- The express reference to the State being a sovereign expression of the Jewish people’s “right of self-determination”, not a favour, thus invoking the Wilsonian principle of international law that was progressively realised for the Jewish people in modern times through the Balfour Declaration and successive acts of the League of Nations and the United Nations, culminating in 1948 in the Declaration of Independence.
I assume you don’t need the Macquarie definition of “Jewish” but point out that the NIF principle is expressed by reference to “the Jewish people” as a whole – klal Yisrael, in all our varieties and beliefs – and because of the express connections with Statehood, sovereignty, and self-determination is in fact less vulnerable to vagaries of interpretation than the mere unadorned phrase “Jewish state”.
For the above reasons, there really is no room for doubt that the NIF principle embodies an emphatic commitment to Israel as a Jewish state and that is the meaning I and NIFAu attach to it.
Your response in our discussion was to effect “Well, why don’t you just say ‘Jewish State’ then?”
There are two responses to this:
- The real question is one of substance not form. If you are looking for a statement of commitment to Israel as the Jewish state, you have it. The form of words used to describe that commitment is irrelevant, as long as the commitment is there. Members of the WZO may have decided to use for their purposes a particular form of words but to focus in this debate on a particular form of words, instead of on the substantive commitment, is to reduce a really important point of principle to one of mere sloganeering. NIF’s commitment to a Jewish state has been clearly articulated – that’s the important point of principle – and it has publicly stated and promoted that commitment using its own words via its own website.
- NIF engages closely with Israeli Arab organisations. You acknowledged at our meeting that there is a problem with discrimination against Arabs in Israel, and one of NIF’s core activities is to work on this issue. Experience has shown that it is counterproductive to a meaningful dialogue with Israeli Arabs to engage in Zionist sloganeering, no matter how strongly one believes in the principles underlying the slogans. To do so acts as a block to addressing the real substantive issues, just as the repeated Arab use of the word “Naqba” often acts as a block to meaningful engagement by Jews. There is little enough trust as it is. To move forward together, both sides need to accept that the other side has its realities and sensitivities as well and not to insist on language that is likely to cause more difficulty and to obstruct the real task, which is to explore and develop meaningful solutions to the underlying challenges.
You referred in your last email to one statement by Naomi Chazan at the Opera House and in The Drum, namely: “All this comes from one source – a deep belief in the right of self-determination of the Jewish people in Israel.” That statement is perfectly consistent with commitment to a Jewish state but, if you had any doubt about that, you would need to go also to the whole context, pointed to indeed by the words “All this...” I was present at the Opera House that day and when both the Palestinian speakers adopted a totally unreasonable, rejectionist position, insisting that the Palestinian right of return was not negotiable, Naomi Chazan said words to effect that, although discussion might be had about such a right if what was sought was compensation, implementation of a physical right of return would mean the end of the Jewish State and “we are not in the business of committing suicide”. You can confirm that by asking anyone who was there.
The following are further examples of recent public statements in Australia of support for a Jewish State by both the President of NIF and the President of NIFAu (emphasis added):
On 6 June, In an ABC TV interview Naomi Chazan said (at c1:14) that Israel needs to rid itself of the territories to "remain a democratic state that is the homeland of the Jewish people".
(Naomi Paiss expressed a similar view, by the way, in an email to you on 16 March, when she said that in NIF’s view young Jews “ become disenchanted by [Israeli] governments who seem to provide carte blanche for settlement expansion and other policies that will eventually negate Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”)
In the AJN of 6 June, Naomi Chazan said:
"Our work seeks to realise the vision of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, of a Jewish and democratic state that provides a just and equitable society for all."
At the Melbourne Festival of Ideas, on 16 June, she said her parents' dream in going to Palestine (i.e. the Zionist dream) was "to enable Jews to live as a free people in their own country".
On 9 May, I said on J-Wire: "NIF supports a Jewish democratic state and pursues those Zionist ideals by working to increase social justice in Israeli society."
On 19 May, I said in the AJN: " It is ludicrous to suggest that NIF, with its proven history of service, is part of the campaign to delegitimise Israel. NIF emphatically supports Israel as the Jewish homeland, the nation-state where the Jewish people have sovereign self-determination. It opposes the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as inflammatory and counterproductive, and is concerned that some BDS proponents are part of the campaign to deny Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish State.”
In an email letter to Philip Chester on 14 July, I said: “I think there is also agreement that I and others involved in NIF are, like you and the ZFA, supporters of Israel as the expression of sovereign national self-determination of the Jewish people and also as a democratic state committed, by its Declaration of Independence and Basic Laws, to protect the civil and human rights of all its citizens.”
Now that you have read the above analysis of the NIF principle, and been reminded of these multiple public statements, I trust you will not assert again, as you did at Emanuel Synagogue on 17 July, that NIF or NIFAu does not support Israel as the Jewish State.
You also agreed at our meeting last Thursday that if we do support Israel as the Jewish State, we are within your red line, from which it follows that disagreements between us and you about whether or not NIF should be funding certain grantees – there are sure to be some – should fairly be characterised as disagreements between well-intentioned people about what is the best way to support Israel as the Jewish State. I hope that will be acknowledged by you in any future discussion you participate in about NIF or NIFAu.
Regarding your enquiries this week about CWP and Mada Al-Carmel, based I assume on your reading of the 2010 financial statements I drew your attention to at our recent meeting:
- The position regarding CWP has been stated publicly by me previously, on a number of occasions. There is a distinction between core grants, authorised by NIF as allocations out of its general funds available for that purpose, and donor advised (DA) payments. The last core grant to CWP was authorised several years ago, well before the “Who Profits?” website commenced, though payments of that grant were made over more than one year. And CWP was removed from the DA list earlier this year.
- Mada Al-Carmel was also removed from the DA list earlier this year.
Once you have such information direct from NIF/NIFAu, you should not rely on a website. As with many organisations, it sometimes takes a little time before someone gets around to updating the website.
NIF’s financial accounts for 2010 have now been openly published, as its accounts always are. Could you please send me a copy of, or a link to, the JAFI’s accounts for 2010? Or do they not publish theirs openly, as NIF does?
And Shabbat shalom,