Legal and transparent above all else
A New York Times investigative report published earlier this month shows that more than $200 million from private American donors has been transferred over the last decade to Israeli organizations involved in settlement-building, large and small, including several illegal outposts.
A large part of the contributions come from evangelical Christians who do not recognize the real interests of the Jewish people. The fact that the U.S. budget indirectly supports settlements (in opposition to the policy of every American administration since 1967 ) by making these donations tax-deductible, is an internal American matter.
But the repercussions of these contributions are extremely relevant to us, to whom they represent a concrete threat.
When the New York Times asked for my reaction, I made clear that as an Israeli to whom democracy is dear, I believe we must not exploit internal American deliberations in order to limit the free speech and activities of these right-wing organizations which enjoy the financial support of American donors.
Whoever wants to contribute to Israel is allowed to do so according to their beliefs, on the condition, of course, that the contributions are legal.
Such is democracy. Even if I think their beliefs are dangerous, and even if I hope their efforts will fail, I know that they have a right to think differently and I do not have the right to silence them. We will conduct the struggle between us with dialogue and not mouth-shutting.
The New Israel Fund, which I am proud to lead - and I am proud too of the organizations we support - operates in order to ensure that all organizations on the political and socio-economic left and right of the spectrum may continue to receive contributions, make their ideas heard and advance their values in a lively and democratic Israel.
These organizations must in our eyes abide by two non-ideological conditions: They must refrain from illegal activities and they must obey strict standards of transparency. An education watchdog that also funds weapons purchases or retaliatory "price tag" attacks misleads the public, and must not be allowed to do so.
An organization which truly wishes to advance education policy, but is also in favor of settlements or conversely ending the occupation, has the right to do so as long as it stands by the two criteria of transparency and legality.
The New Israel Fund defends these principles, and anyone may learn about any of our activities through our public reports.
This is the litmus test between those who seek to guard Israel as a progressive and democratic state and those who would reduce it to something closed or exclusive.
Unfortunately, the strategy adopted by organizations on the right (with the help of foreign contributions ) does not add to their transparency, but rather attempts to silence the left.
These organizations do not debate left-wing ideology constructively, but try to delegitimize left-wing groups. They are not satisfied with making their own ideas heard, but advocate a program whose aim is to limit the funding for human rights and civil rights groups in Israel.
They battle groups who defend the Palestinians in the occupied territories, work for the equality of Israeli Arabs, attend to the rights of foreign workers, fight for workers' rights in factories in outlying areas, aid new immigrants in the absorption process and work to reduce the gap between poor and well-off children.
This entire enterprise is being targeted by the right. Instead of conducting a democratic, ideological argument, force is used to shut up the opposing side.
Of course, at the same time that they are attempting to limit human rights organizations, the extreme right is also working to ensure its own funding, to deceive the tax authorities in the U.S. about where this money goes and to use any trick imaginable to make sure that hundreds of millions of dollars continues to flow to settlements - without distinguishing between money going toward legal or illegal enterprises, or whether the source of the money is open or camouflaged.
Those who are devoted to the future of Israel as a free country would do well to oppose any attempt to silence voices on the right or left, and completely reject the efforts of certain groups to change the rules of the game - basic to any democracy - at the expense of its opponents.
Everyone must adopt the same standards and apply them fairly to all groups in Israeli society. This is the real sign of a civil society in a free state.
The writer is president of the New Israel Fund
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