Isi Leibler has been a dedicated Zionist for his entire career. I know that he loves Israel and is dedicated to its future. So am I. Which is why, next June, after a career that has included stints running the national UJA and a major Federation, I will become the next chair of the New Israel Fund.
“I am taking this on as the capstone of my career because I believe that the New Israel Fund is the most important organization helping Israel realize its founding principles. And thus I must address recent attacks on the New Israel Fund, including that of Mr. Leibler’s (“The Two Faces of the New Israel Fund” September 15.)
First, it’s important to understand that Mr. Leibler’s viewpoints are embedded in a right-wing ideology, one which I’m sure he thinks necessary to ensure Israel’s survival. That said, his writings exculpating settler behavior, attacking other progressive organizations and supporting problematically anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset are a matter of record.
He should have, however, in praising NGO Monitor, acknowledged that he is on the board of International Overseers and chairs the Israel-Diaspora Committee of the Jerusalem Council on Public Affairs, the body that founded NGO Monitor. Perhaps relying overmuch on that organization, which has long justified its existence by targeting the New Israel Fund, many of Mr. Leibler’s facts are wrong.
Every organization funded by the New Israel Fund is a legal Israeli amuta. We are on the record, in our funding guidelines, in refusing to fund any organization that “works to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel, or to deny the rights of Palestinian or other non-Jewish citizens to full equality within a democratic Israel.” And, as has been repeatedly reported, we no longer fund the Coalition of Women for Peace or Mada al Carmel, and all organizations funded by or through NIF must meet our funding guidelines.
Adalah is the most successful Arab Israel organization securing the rights of the Arab minority, which probably is the real reason it is targeted so frequently. As co-chairman for the last several years of the Interagency Task Force on Israeli-Arab issues, a coalition of many mainstream organizations working on discrimination against the Arab minority, I share Adalah’s concern. Their latest victory, after a lawsuit in the High Court, was the acceptance by the Israel Land Authority of a request by an Arab family to live in the community town of Rakefet in the Western Galilee. How could Mr. Leibler object to the granting of the equal rights promised by Israel’s Declaration of Independence?
Further, fulminating against foreign funding of the human rights community, and outlawing it, is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes in Russia, China, Sudan and other nations Israel should have no wish to emulate. The legislation Mr. Liebler and his associates at NGO Monitor champion makes no mention of the millions of foreign dollars flowing to extremist settler groups, one of which actually went to court to protect its donor list from public scrutiny. Unfortunately, NGO Monitor’s complete list of donors is also unavailable to the public.
The New Israel Fund’s audited financial information is available every year for the previous calendar year, as is standard practice, and our complete list of donors is in our Annual Report on our website. Very few Israeli organizations meet NIF’s standard of transparency.
And finally, as anyone who has ever actually participated in a grant-making organization knows, our grants process meets the most rigorous international standards of checks and balances. The personal beliefs of the grants director, currently or previously, have no impact on grant decisions, which are overseen by executive staff, Board subcommittees and the Board of Directors itself. The only objectives, criteria and guidelines determining NIF grants are those of NIF itself.
The latest wave of attacks on NIF comes at a bad time. Right now most Israelis are feeling particularly besieged. The breakdown in relations with Turkey and Egypt and the looming UN vote are real reasons for concern. This, of all times, is not when Israelis and we who love Israel should engage in fratricidal games of “gotcha.”
As the High Holidays arrive, it is the time for “cheshbon nefesh,” searching our souls in order to clarify who we are and what we hope to be. With the understanding that we will respectfully disagree on serious issues about the direction of the Israeli government’s policy and Israeli society, we must unite in support of a free, just and egalitarian Israel, the Jewish homeland we all support, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.
Rabbi Brian Lurie is the former Executive Vice President of the United Jewish Appeal, the executive director of the Bay Area Federation, and co-chair of the Interagency Task Force on Israeli Arab issues. He is the president-elect of the New Israel Fund.