(April 23, 2014 / JNS)
If a small group of grassroots Jewish organizations have their way, more than one hundred protestors will assemble in New York City on April 29, each carrying a shofar. On cue, at 5:30 p.m., rain or shine, all will raise their curved rams’ horns, long and short, and wail to the heavens in visceral unison producing a piercing spectacle of protest.
What are they protesting? It is their communal leadership.
The dissident shofar blowers will assemble in front of the 59th Street headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York. The Federation’s beneficiary, the Jewish Community Relations Council, is the chief organizer of the Celebrate Israel Parade scheduled for June 1. The upbeat procession of floats, runners, and marchers is normally a public show of Jewish unity in support of Israel. But this year, the parade has become a maelstrom of disunity over the participation of the controversial New Israel Fund (NIF) and other groups which recent revelations now link to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally.
The outrage in some Jewish circles over the NIF’s inclusion in the highly visible parade, formerly known as the Israel Day Parade, may be more than just a passing horn blast. The discontent may be energizing a historic decision among American Jews. Just what constitutes the Jewish mainstream? Is American Jewry about to set limits on its open tent of inclusion, a precept the community wears as a badge of honor?
More than a few American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by such groups as the J Street lobby, the NIF, and other organizations that constitute a powerful, well-funded minority able to wage war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people. The accused organizations vigorously insist their activities are simply democratic dissent aimed at solving Israel’s problems.
The NIF, enabled by taxpayer subsidies of its 501(c)(3) status, has been a pivotal funder of the BDS movement against Israel. Until 2011, the NIF was a lead supporter of the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), which established a global BDS infrastructure. According to NIF financial records, in 2008 alone, the NIF bestowed $93,457 upon the CWP. Over a period of years, NIF financing of this organization reached a strong six-figure sum, which included both direct grants and those where the NIF acted as a go-between for other donors—a technique they called “donor advised funding.”
The NIF no longer provides money to the CWP. Now, the CWP is strong enough to gather its monies from other sources. But detractors say the irreparable damage was done. Moreover, the BDS movement today is fortified by a conveyor belt of brutality and oppression accounts—some legitimate, some exaggerated, some invented—force fed to the world by agitation NGOs, including many financed by the NIF. The NIF’s financial records for 2012 indicate that it granted $109,615 to Breaking the Silence, $255,477 to B’Tselem, and $209,161 to Adalah. These three groups are among dozens of NIF grantees that critics accuse as operating on the front lines of anti-Israel information and distorting the facts about international law as it affects Israel.
For example, Adalah on its website brags of the NGO’s robust role in the now-retracted Goldstone Report that accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. B’Tselem provides cameras to agitators involved in orchestrated confrontations with Israeli soldiers, even as it tolerates repeated child endangerment by Palestinian provocateurs in the process.
Partners for Progressive Israel—another group marching in the Celebrate Israel Parade—on its website prominently encourages the boycott of Israeli products such as those of Ahava and Sodastream. When confronted, no one can reliably cite the international law Sodastream is allegedly violating, with its West Bank factory known to treat all equally.
Now, several Jewish and Zionist organizations are vociferously demanding that the NIF, B’Tselem, and Partners for Progressive Israel all be excluded from marching in the parade. The NIF has participated in prior years. These grassroots groups and individuals include Rabbi Elie Abadie of the architectonic Edmond J. Safra Congregation in Manhattan, the Zionist Organization of America, Americans for a Safe Israel, and the campaign’s central mover, JCC Watch—headed by Richard Allen, a private individual.
The anti-NIF protestors have been dismissed as a “fringe.” New York’s Jewish Week newspaper ran an NIF op-ed defaming the protestors as a “tiny extremist group.”
Yes, JCC Watch may have an unpolished website, inelegant rhetoric, and few financial resources. But its message has struck a chord—perhaps wailed by 100 shofars on a Manhattan street corner on April 29.
The umbrage against the NIF’s participation in the Celebrate Israel Parade is only growing. Rabbi Abadie has threatened to pull his congregation’s participation and financial support for the parade, and like-minded Sephardic congregations have promised to join him. On April 8, Member of Knesset Nissim Ze’ev joined protestors in a Manhattan demonstration against the participation of BDS-linked groups in the parade.
In an interview, NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch stated in defense of his group, “Some of these folks are saying that the NIF is now synonymous with the boogie man… We get blamed for everything. It is patently absurd. It bears no relation to reality.”
But the Jewish community is now looking at its own mainstream, and some are asking if the riverbanks need to be more defined and steeper. Some are also asking if whether the open tent, so precious to all, can survive if burning flames are brought inside.
Edwin Black is the award-winning author of the international bestseller “IBM and the Holocaust.” This article is drawn from his just-released newsbook, “Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel.”