How the New Israel Fund Made Me the Leftist I Am Today

This is a thank you to Im Tirtzu, which branded me this week, and also a warning: When your world is as narrow as the world of the ant, you will also end up being crushed like it.

Avraham Burg
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The latest Im Tirtzu campaign, which targets left-wing artists. Pictured (from left): Sha'anan Street, Amos Oz, Joshua Sobol and Gila Almagor.
The latest Im Tirtzu campaign, which targets left-wing artists. Pictured (from left): Sha'anan Street, Amos Oz, Joshua Sobol and Gila Almagor.Credit: From the Facebook page of Im Tirtzu
Avraham Burg

The seasonal Im Tirtzu storm has come and gone like a light snow in Jerusalem. Hooliganism that was spread by their politicians. But make no mistake, Im Tirtzu is a very important organization; its members are saying today what the government will do tomorrow. We really have reached the stage of branding citizens according to their opinions. That’s why I would like to thank the organization for including me among the “artists and cultural personalities” who are “plants” (or moles) of the New Israel Fund. I’m not being sarcastic: When it comes from them it’s a civilian medal of honor.

But I would like to be precise: I’m not a mole of the New Israel Fund. The NIF has never sent me on a daring mission behind the lines of the right. On the contrary, it is implanted in me. My entire existence, everywhere and always, is the existence of the New Israel Fund. I would never have been capable of attaining the ideological foundations of my life without it. A plant (sapling) is a passive tree without a will of its own, while I’m an activist; of my own free will and on my own initiative I roam wherever possible and spread the teaching. Openly and proudly.

I was one of the first Israelis exposed to its new model: Judaism and activism. At the time the “Fund” challenged the establishment and blind philanthropy – the herds of donors had no clue where their money was going, what it was used for. No longer, said the founders of the New Israel Fund, a donation is a responsibility! The giver and receiver have to know why and for what the money was given. Revolutionary ideas in our “schnorrland.”

And the founders added: Along with the money we’re also giving the Israelis these same values that have made us – the Jews of the United States – such a strong and ethical community. For the sake of a democratic Israeli society, in which all human beings are equal, and there is religious pluralism, a life of peace, a safety net for anyone whose rights as a human being and a citizen are harmed, equality between genders and countries of origin.

At first I didn’t understand. I was an average Israeli – tough, obtuse, certain of my mistaken path. A graduate of a yeshiva high school with a red beret and an officer’s epaulets. What did I have to do with all those namby-pamby sensitivities? Over the years I discovered that American Jewry, by means of the NIF and its activities, were offering us the only life preservers that could protect us from the terrible storms of the only “most Jewish and not-so-democratic country in the Middle East.”

I was fortunate to be the first to receive an NIF “leadership fellowship.” I received a rare opportunity to distill my ideas. For an entire year I studied and taught, read and wrote, met people, listened and made myself heard, confronted and was confronted, and at the end of the process I was privileged to become a public figure representing the sacred values of peace-loving Jewish humanism.

I have always considered myself a part of the NIF. I have never concealed my intentions and activities to promote the values of its founders, donors and organizations. I didn’t agree with all of them, not all of them agreed with me, but the battle for a multifaceted society, which contains contradictions, equalizes the excluded and fights all discrimination anywhere, have turned all of us into the hard core of the Israeli democratic camp.

Just because of the ill winds that are blowing in the country, today I am far more the “New Israel Fund” that ever before. It’s my ID card, my friends, my ethical family and my humane partners. The NIF is implanted in my heart, implanted in my commitment to equality, essential to my battles for peace and the separation of religion from the state. If you don’t want to – you don’t have to, but it’s worth knowing: In order to frighten me, us, you’ll need much more than that. Patches, horror propaganda and violence won’t do the work of persuasion for you.

It may end in boycotts, refusal, prisons, murders and a lot of violence. It also may not. But when the present wave of the cold civil war between the militias of the right and its government and the human rights heroes passes, it will transpire that we have won. Not because we are stronger, richer, more violent or more determined than you. On the contrary. It will happen only because we stand alongside freedom and you stand alongside oppression. We with freedoms, and you with fears; we with equality, and you with discrimination; we with hopes, and you with despair. And ours – as many histories have already proven – are stronger than yours.

We will win because we are fighting for you as well. For the shared good. And you will lose, because you’re fighting only for your own egocentric narcissism. For yourselves and your ilk alone. And when your world is as narrow as the world of the ant, you will also end up being crushed like it. Consider this a warning.

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