A few days before the start of the GA, I went down to a place called Times Center in midtown Manhattan, looking for people with horns. Not French horns, mind you, or bicycle horns, but more like rhinoceros’ horns, of the kind that is usually found attached to Naomi Chazan’s forehead.
It was, after all, a gala evening of the New Israel Fund (NIF), and I was sure I would see NIF people emulating their uni-horned chairwoman, as she was depicted in posters adorning the ultra-effective anti-NIF campaign conducted in Israel two years ago by the right wing group Im Tirzu. Keren, you see, means both “fund” and “horn” in Hebrew.
Since then, the NIF’s name has become synonymous in the eyes of many Israelis with rabid collaborationist anti-Zionists bent on undermining the state. In the right wing blogosphere, any mention of the name NIF is immediately met by a torrent of comments and talkbacks that include some of Hebrew’s most venomous epithets. And if you are seeking a quick indictment by association for any project or organization, all you have to do is mention that “funding was provided by the NIF”.
But they are nothing if not sneaky, these NIF people, most likely being tutored in the art of disguise by their masters in Gaza or Beirut or Tehran or wherever. It didn’t stop with the hidden horns, of course: the true extent of their subterfuge started dawning on me when I saw hundreds of attendees dressed just like other well-to-do New Yorkers, (a surprising number of them – the gall! – with kippot on their heads) chattering loudly and eating with abandon as if this was some function of kosher-certified organizations such as UJA, Israel Bonds or – strike me down for even thinking this – the Zionist Organization of America.
I waited in vain for a call to arms against those murderous Zionist stormtroopers or for the plaintive cry of the children of a Palestinian “martyr” begging for more money or at the very least for a rousing rendition of the Palestinian anthem “Biladi Biladi”(my land, my land).
Instead, I got Naomi Shemer’s Israeli anthem “Lu Yehi”, (Let it Be) stirringly sung by Angela Buchdahl, cantor of New York’s Central Synagogue. I heard a touching tribute by Gloria Steinem to the evening’s guest of honor, 85 year old Israeli women’s rights champion Alice Shalvi, and was then almost brought to tears – well, actually, brought to tears - by a truly moving lament from Shalvi herself, about the Israel that once was and, she naively insists, can exist once again. And then I heard NIF Chairman Daniel Sokatch celebrate the great social advances that have taken place in Israel in the past three decades, many of which were aided, abetted and yes, sometimes even inspired by the NIF - including the recent J14 “uprising” of Israel’s middle class under the slogan “the people demand social justice”.
Now I’m sure that with the benefit of hindsight the NIF probably should have been more circumspect and should not have funded, even if it was only partially, some of the organizations that eventually collaborated with the Goldstone Report or spend their time monitoring IDF “war crimes”.
But these organizations comprised only a miniscule part of the NIF’s activities, as everyone knows, including, I suspect, the NIF’s accusers. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that the campaign against the organization has much less to do with whether the NIF is or is not assisting the Palestinians and more to do with what they are doing to help Israelis.
Never mind the assistance to the liberation of women, the fight against religious coercion, the empowerment of the poor or the care for the underprivileged, what really galls the xenophobic ultranationalists and ethno-supremacists that are at the NIF’s throat is that its donors and members still believe in the democratic values that the Israel of their youth was founded on, and still swear by that almost-forgotten document, Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which insists on “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” and promises “full and equal citizenship” to Israeli Arabs. These knee-jerk American do-gooders are trying to import “Western values”, their detractors insist, including those tiresome self-evident truths that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and that this may even apply, god forbid, to people who aren’t Jewish or who live in the territories.
Thus, one cannot really overstate what an utter travesty this fanatic jihad against the NIF was, how base are the attempts by some politicians to try and fan these and other flames of intolerance in the Knesset, and how shallow and cowardly most of us were and still are – including those who may legitimately disagree with the NIF’s distribution of funds - for having let all of this take place with nary a word of protest. And by “this” I am referring to the same kind of gutter campaign that almost 60 years ago was described in the US Congress’ House Committee on un-American Activities as “reckless cruelty” and which earned its instigator with the immortal query: “At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency?”
So my bottom line is this: the next time someone tries to convince you that the NIF are somehow traitors or turncoats, tell them that if they are really looking for enemies of the state, they can do no better than to go and look in the mirror.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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