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New Israel Fund reveals string of donations to anti-reform protest groups

It “invests in organizations bent on destroying Zionism,” Gadi Taub, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University, tells JNS.

Israeli protesters against judicial reform block a main road on March 23, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari/Flash90.
Israeli protesters against judicial reform block a main road on March 23, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari/Flash90.

The U.S.-based New Israel Fund, which provides financial support to progressive and anti-Israel groups, on Monday posted to its Hebrew website a list of its donations to groups involved in the protests against judicial reform.

Demonstrations, sometimes turning violent, have roiled Israel for the past three months and, at least temporarily, derailed the government’s legislative plans.

The total amount spent, spread across 26 groups, comes to about 2 million shekels, or $660,000. Indeed, NIF money helped to ignite the protests, funding the first major demonstration on Jan. 7 in Tel Aviv.

“They’re not exaggerating their role,” Gadi Taub, a senior lecturer at the Federmann School of Public Policy at Hebrew University, told JNS. “They’re taking pride because they think they might have succeeded in stopping the reform. And they might have.”

Taub added, however, that the protesters (whose numbers he said the left has in any case exaggerated) were only indirectly responsible for the government’s decision to impose its legislative freeze. The direct cause was “a near mutiny in the army.”

“When you have the Supreme Court president, Esther Hayut, maneuvering for a constitutional crisis, and then the chief of staff of the army saying that a constitutional crisis is a red line for the army, what you have is a threat of a coup. This is what forced the government to bend,” Taub said, acknowledging at the same time that the protests did play an important role by “emboldening” anti-reformists, including army reservists who refused to report to duty.

The New Israel Fund defends itself by insisting it only wants a progressive Israel, one that upholds equality for all, rights for “marginalized minorities” and “tolerance for diversity.” It presents itself as a defender of democracy, proclaiming on its English-language website, “We are the pro-democracy pushback.”

Taub rejects NIF’s claims. “The New Israel Fund is hiding behind a façade and playing a double game. They call themselves democratic but what they’re actually doing is helping organizations which either demonize the Jewish state or else work to de-nationalize it—in other words, they want a non-Jewish ‘state of all its citizens.’

“The proof is in the pudding: Ask what organizations the NIF supports, and what their ideological boundaries are. And here, everything becomes refreshing clear,” Taub said, listing groups funded by NIF such as Yesh Din, which portrays Israel as a war-criminal regime, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, which seeks to “circumvent the Law of Return by giving illegal aliens permanent residence,” and other organizations “working to drag Israeli servicemen and women before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”

Bent on destroying Zionism

Rather than offering rhetorical camouflage to conceal that it “invests in organizations bent on destroying Zionism,” the NIF should be honest with the Israeli people, he said.

“We Israelis deserve clarity. And we may not like the feeling that along with the moralistic rhetoric, American progressive Jews are trying to change not their own country but ours, so as to help them find more favor with the increasingly anti-Israel American left.”

Adding insult to injury is that NIF is a foreign entity in Israel, meaning it’s not required to disclose information to the Registrar of [Nonprofit] Associations. As a result, Israelis don’t know where its funding comes from or who its donors are.

One observer, an expert on social movements, told JNS, “There’s hypocrisy at work here because they abuse the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative, pro-reform think tank, for taking foreign money as it tries to change Israeli policy, but the NIF wants to change the Israeli government with foreign money.”

Matan Peleg, CEO of Zionist NGO Im Tirtzu, told JNS the NIF is essentially acting against the government that hosts it. “There has never been a foreign body inside the country that has worked to weaken the Jewish army, weaken the Jewish identity, change the internal policy of the Jewish people in the country, harm Israeli democracy and more. All this is done by the New Israel Fund against the majority of the people living in Israel.”

Taub agreed that “Israel has no effective laws against foreign interference. For instance, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a major player because it keeps appealing to the Supreme Court against the right wing, is supported by the State Department.”

The NIF’s donation list included groups pushing an array of issues, some directly related to the judicial reform protests and some not. One donation of $15,000 went to a group focusing on Israel’s “occupation.” The purpose of the donation was to incorporate the group, called “Looking the Occupation in the Eyes,” into the anti-reform protests.

Still other donations unrelated to judicial reform:  $17,500 to a coalition called “The Gun is on the Table” to campaign against Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir’s plan to ease restrictions on private gun licenses; $20,000 to Marima, an initiative to mobilize gay youth to participate against government policies, (including on issues not directly linked to the LGBT community); and $29,000 to Women Against Violence for a campaign focusing on the rights of Arab women “against the background of the legal coup.”

“The New Israel Fund is maneuvering to de-Judaize Israel so it has a host of identity causes that it seeks to latch to the anti-reform bandwagon to promote them. Its conception of democracy is essentially anti-nationalist,” Taub said.

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