Prominent Scholar David Myers to Succeed Talia Sasson as President of New Israel Fund

As president of the organization, Myers says he hoped to focus on 'pushing back attempts to tear down institutions of democracy in Israel'

David Myers.
Scarlett Freund

David Myers, a prominent scholar of Jewish history, is to become the next president of the New Israel Fund, an international organization dedicated to promoting liberal democracy in Israel.  His appointment will be officially announced on Sunday.

Myers will replace Talia Sasson, the former Israeli state prosecutor who held the position for the past three years. He will continue to serve on the faculty of UCLA as a professor of Jewish history.

Over the past year, Myers also served as president of the Center of Jewish History in New York. Various right-wing organizations had campaigned to block that appointment because of his left-wing views on Israel. Myers eventually stepped down – earlier than he had planned – after receiving an offer from the NIF board to replace Sasson.

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“I felt that is was an assignment that I couldn’t pass up,” Myers, 57, told Haaretz in a telephone conversation from his home in Los Angeles. The incoming NIF president, who will also serve a three-year term, has been a member of the NIF board for the past five years.

Talia Sasson.
Emil Salman

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Myers received his bachelor’s degree from Yale and his doctorate from Columbia. His books include  “Re-inventing the Jewish Past” (Oxford, 1995), “Resisting History: The Crisis of Historicism in German-Jewish Thought” (Princeton, 2003), “Between Jew and Arab: The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz” (Brandeis, 2008), “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction”  (Oxford, 2017), and “The Stakes of Jewish History: On the Use and Abuse of Jewish History for Life” (Yale, 2018).

Myers served for 10 years as director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and is currently director of its Luskin Center for History and Policy.

Since it was founded in 1979, the NIF – headquartered in New York – has provided more than $300 million in grants to more than 900 organizations. Aside from grant-making, it also engages in advocacy and empowerment work.

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In recent years, the NIF has been the target of numerous smear campaigns by right-wing organizations in Israel and under constant attack by the country’s right-wing leaders.

As president of the organization, Myers said he hoped to focus on “pushing back attempts to tear down institutions of democracy in Israel” as well as “preparing for the day after the crisis of democracy is over.”

He said he was optimistic that day would come. “I would not have taken this position if I did not believe it,” he said.

Myers described himself as “a supporter of the two-state solution although I’m not optimistic about the prospects of its realization soon.”

He said his daughters had been involved in IfNotNow, a vocal anti-occupation group that often challenges the mainstream Jewish establishment in the United States. “I have no formal or ongoing role (in the organization),” he said, “but I have been in touch with some of the people in Los Angeles and New York at various points in time to talk about what they’re doing and to offer advise.”

The incoming NIF president said he was astonished that the Israeli authorities were continuing to detain left-wing activists at the country’s borders. “I thought that after the case of Peter Beinart (a prominent Jewish-American journalist interrogated at the airport when he landed in Israel several months ago to attend a family celebration) when the prime minister issued an apology, that the authorities would knock it off,” he said.  “Not only is there nothing to be gained from this, but not one of those who was stopped represented a security threat in the slightest, so it really violates the very fiber of democracy in Israel.”

Asked about his position on boycotts of Israel, Myers said it was very much in line with that of the NIF. “Neither the NIF nor I support the idea of a global boycott of Israel, and neither do we support organizations that support a boycott of Israel,” he said. “But we do not refuse to fund those who call for boycotts of settlement products, and that’s for the simple reason that we hold to the view that the occupation of the West Bank is in violation of international law and we make a clear distinction between what goes on in the territories and what goes on inside the Green Line.”