Hey NIF: Criticism is a Democratic Right
By Anne Herzberg Legal adviser of NGO Monitor Sat Feb 12 2010
It’s strange that groups claiming to be well-versed in human rights seem so unfamiliar with the concept of free speech.
Those who make a full-time pursuit of criticizing others probably should grow thicker skin. Yet the New Israel Fund (NIF) and its NGO grantees have launched a thin-skinned offensive against an Israeli student group that criticized them. And they have dragged NGO Monitor into the fray.
As soon as Im Tirtzu released its report detailing how Israeli human rights organizations contributed to the Goldstone Report, NIF backers unleashed ad hominem attacks against the student group and against NGO Monitor (though we were not involved in the report). NIF has threatened to sue Im Tirtzu and any newspaper that repeats its findings. It also sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calling NGO Monitor “the rotten fruit of Israeli democracy.”
The record needs to be set straight regarding many troubling aspects of NIF’s combative reaction. To avert criticism of their activities, many of the non-governmental organizations highlighted in Im Tirtzu’s report – such as B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – are promoting the canard that if only Israel had cooperated with Richard Goldstone and his UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza war, his report would not have been as outrageously one-sided as it turned out to be.
In truth, there is no evidence that Israeli participation in the Goldstone mission would have changed the outcome of the widely panned report.
Goldstone’s mission was the product of a political war conducted against Israel in the UN Human Rights Council. Led by some of the world’s most abusive regimes – including China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia – this corrupt body has ignored mass atrocities such as the genocide in Darfur, the slaughter of more than 25,000 Sri Lankans and the forced starvation and enslavement of North Koreans. Indeed, the Goldstone mission was created by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to deflect attention from the horrific abuses of its member states and their supporters. In fact, according to the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Goldstone’s mission was financed by the Arab League.
FOR HIS part, Goldstone went along with the farce. Where facts exonerating the IDF existed – whether from the UN, the Israeli Foreign Ministry or independent sources – Goldstone apparently ignored or twisted such evidence, choosing instead to credit Hamas sources.
Israeli NGOs played a central role in laying the foundation for Goldstone’s untenable report. During the fighting in Gaza, these groups issued nonstop allegations of “war crimes,” “collective punishment” and intentional murder of civilians. They delivered countless publications containing speculative and unconfirmed claims used to bolster the HRC’s predetermined conclusions. Much of the Goldstone Report was based directly on these inflammatory charges.
Rather than admit their role, these organizations now seek to absolve themselves of responsibility. While NGO assertions of Goldstone’s fairness are perhaps rooted in naiveté, the attempts by the NIF and its grantees to muzzle critics are far more pernicious. Since NGO Monitor first raised the issue of European government funding for supposedly “nongovernmental” organizations (many of which also receive financial and other support from the NIF), these groups have resorted to childish attacks. They have bizarrely characterized NGO Monitor as “extremist” and “right-wing” (whatever those terms mean), and complained that simply reporting on their funding and activities amounts to “repression of dissent.”
But the right of expression always comes with the potential for disapproval. It is strange that groups claiming to be so well-versed in human rights seem so unfamiliar with the concept of free speech.
These attacks must not divert attention from the massive power that NIF and its beneficiaries wield. NIF has an annual budget of $32 million. Its Israeli grantees also receive tens of millions annually from the EU, European governments, the US-based Ford Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.
NIF-funded NGOs regularly engage in public relations blitzes, often facilitated by professional media consultants. They hold press conferences, issue glossy publications in multiple languages, and contribute regular op-eds and articles to high-profile media outlets such as Ma’ariv, Haaretz, The New York Times, and Huffington Post. They regularly submit reports at the UN and send representatives to conferences in Europe and America. B’Tselem has a growing lobbying office in Washington and a representative in the UK.
NGO Monitor researchers have analyzed NIF funding practices for years. While the organization does some positive work in Israel that should be applauded, it refuses to engage in debate regarding several of its grantees that demonize Israel at the UN, support boycott and divestment campaigns, promote “lawfare” cases against Israeli officials, and even advocate erasing the Jewish character of the state. Significantly, many NIF donors are unaware of these activities. NIF has rebuffed all of NGO Monitor’s attempts to discuss appropriate “red lines” for the groups they fund.
Perhaps if NIF would stop name-calling and threatening lawsuits, the path would be open for a constructive debate about the role several NIF-supported NGOs have played in the demonization of Israel, and their exploitation by reactionary and totalitarian forces at the UN. Instead of blocking healthy discussion, NIF and its grantees should welcome this conversation – a conversation that would benefit NIF donors, the Israeli public and, ultimately, Israeli democracy.
The writer is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor
‘Goldstone Report was our smoking gun’
BY ABE SELIG
How did Im Tirtzu go from organizing campus demonstrations to compiling a major report that has reverberated into a major scandal?
How did Im Tirtzu-The Second Zionist Revolution, which was created less than four years ago as a small student organization to voice support for IDF reservists, go from organizing campus demonstrations during the Second Lebanon War to compiling a major report that has reverberated into a major scandal?
One of the reasons, The Jerusalem Post learned this week, was that the document the group released last month, now known as the “Im Tirtzu Report,” which listed the New Israel Fund as a main financier of more than a dozen Israeli NGOs – including: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights; Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; HaMoked-Center for the Defense of the Individual; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel; the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights – that provided testimony used in the UN’s Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead, was the result of efforts modeled after military intelligence operations that trace and pinpoint money trails leading to terrorist organizations.
Im Tirtzu head Ronen Shoval, told the Post this week that the detailed report, which has continued to make waves both in civil society and government circles, was “modeled after the way intelligence agencies look into the financing of terror groups.”
“We invested great efforts to understand the funding strategy and ideology behind the NIF, and what we found out is just the tip of the iceberg,” Shoval said, although he declined to elaborate.
While some questions regarding Im Tirtzu’s inspiration and practical use of intelligence tactics remain unanswered, Shoval did say that he and his group had “always known that the [NGOs that reported to the Goldstone Commission] were getting support from the same place, but after the Goldstone Report was released, we saw that they had crossed a red line.
“The Goldstone Report was our smoking gun,” he said. “It showed that these groups were not engaging in constructive criticism, but destructive criticism, and working to harm the state.
“We also knew that the testimonies they gave were highly flawed and often without attributions,” he said. “So it was important for us to research these groups and expose who they’re connected to.
“All we had to do was follow the money,” he continued. “If we were to have gone after these individual groups one at a time, it wouldn’t have been nearly as efficient. Instead, we decided to go after the source – the NIF – because that’s where the money trail kept leading to.”
While the report resulted in increased support for Im Tirtzu – in addition to the massive publicity it produced, Shoval said hundreds of people had joined Im Tirtzu in the weeks since the report’s release – it also became a strong rallying point for the group’s opponents, including the very NGOs the report targeted.
Dozens of newspaper articles and blog postings accusing Im Tirtzu of “McCarthyism” and even “fascism” surfaced in the wake of the report.
Additionally, an advertisement that was published throughout the Hebrew and Israeli English-language dailies, featuring a caricature of NIF chairwoman and former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan with a horn strapped onto her forehead, drew condemnations comparing it to Der Stürmer – drawing a parallel between Im Tirtzu’s efforts and the Nazi weekly used to dehumanize Jews between 1923 and 1945.
Shoval was unapologetic regarding the ad, dismissing the criticisms as “nonsense.”
“Was the ad successful?” Shoval asked. “I know it was, and therefore it didn’t go too far. Sometimes you have to put the truth right in people’s faces.
“It’s interesting that in the name of free speech, [critics of the ad and report] tried to shut us up,” Shoval continued. “But as far as the ad campaign was concerned, we had to figure out how to come out against a group that no one even knew existed. No one knew who the NIF was, but everyone knows Chazan.
“I don’t have anything personal against her,” Shoval said. “But I’d be happy if her group stopped financing these organizations.”
Shoval also rejected the notion that Im Tirtzu had received government support for the report’s creation.
“A lot of groups, including government bodies, support it,” he said of Im Tirtzu’s report. “But it’s not as if we were receiving instructions from above to carry this thing out. Government officials have responded with interest to our findings, simply because they agree that these groups and their actions present a strategic threat.
“For us, we look at this information as an ethical issue, not a legal one,” he added, stressing that he had received thousands of e-mails thanking him for the report.
“People have written me saying things like, ‘Finally, you said what we’ve all wanted to say for so long,’ and, ‘It’s about time someone did this’. I think people have just had enough of what these groups are doing.”
And what it is that these NGOs are doing, Shoval clarified, is undermining the state, and disseminating anti-Zionist tropes into Israeli society.
“Basically, anti-Israel groups, including many in Europe, have found Israelis who are willing to do their dirty work,” he said. “In that vein, this is not a right-wing or left-wing issue. It’s about being a Zionist and supporting Israel as a Jewish state – that’s it.”
And such is the essence of Im Tirtzu, Shoval said. What began as an effort to support IDF soldiers – especially during anti-war protests – on university campuses during the Second Lebanon War, has seen Im Tirtzu come into its own as a forceful movement with thousands of members, and the attention – if not backing – of the government.
“We’re trying to bring back faith in the way of the early Zionists,” Shoval said. “And we’ve been successful because we’re portraying our cause as cool and trendy. We want people to understand what it means to be a Zionist today – why they should stay in Israel, why they should go to the reserves.
“And so,” he continued, “Im Tirtzu began as a way to get back to the basics and present alternatives to all of the anti-Zionist sentiments that are out there.”
Shoval said his group was nowhere near slowing down. As for its success in growing from a small, student-based campus organization into a movement with front-page headlines and Knesset members citing its work, Shoval said luck or being in the right place at the right time had little to do with it.
“From the start, we’ve had very intelligent people on-board, planning out how to make this thing work,” he said.
“We always saw the university campuses as a means to an end, and part of a 10 year plan that would bring us from a student group to an influential force in Israeli society.”
Tags: “palestinians”, Adalah, and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights, Anti Israel Bias, Anti Israel Bigotry, Arab racism, Arabs, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights, Cast Lead, gaza, Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Goldstone report, Hamas, HaMoked-Center for the Defense of the Individual, Im Tirtzu Report, Islamic bigotry, Israel, Jews, Jihad, New Israel Fund, NGO, NIF, Operation Cast Lead, Pallywood, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, terrorist organizations, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, UN