The NIF Is Hiding Behind Ambiguity. We Need Clarity

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David N. Myers
Prof. David Myers, president of the New Israel Fund.Credit: Scarlett Freund

Prof. David Myers, president of the New Israel Fund, believes I’m on the “wrong side” of democracy ("Trump Still Has His Jewish Enablers, and Gadi Taub Is One of Them," Haaretz, February 2). This is because, he writes, “The only right which matters to Taub is self-determination. And the only group that deserves that right, in his view, are the Jews.”

What does Myers mean by saying I believe only Jews deserve self-determination? Surely, he doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the rights of other peoples – say the Dutch, the Italians or the Romanians – to self-determination in their own nation states. Perhaps he means, then, that I believe that in the State of Israel only one people can realize its right to self-determination, and that this one people is the Jewish people? If this is what he means, he is of course correct.

This is indeed my Wilsonian (and Herzelian) view, and that is the nature of nation states. Otherwise they would not be nation states – they would be multinational states.

It seems that Myers also recognizes that the Jewish people have this right: “Let there be no mistake,” he says, “the New Israel Fund supports the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in this land.” So what is the difference, exactly, between his view and mine, and what is it that puts mine on the “wrong side” of democracy and his on its right side? Does he simply mean that he supports the two-state solution, in which case both peoples have the right to self-determination “in this land,” or does he mean that in this state, the state of Israel, Jews should not be “the only group that deserves that right”? If this is what he means, then the “right side” of democracy seems to be, in his view, the replacement of the Jewish nation state with a binational or a non-national state.

If indeed Myers and the NIF wish to replace the Jewish nation state with a multinational one, this would certainly suffice to explain why his rebuttal remains so frustratingly opaque. But I confess that I have no definitive way to pin this down in his text. We have little choice then but to search for the proof, as they say, in the pudding: ask what organizations the NIF supports, and what are their ideological boundaries.

And here, everything becomes refreshing clear. The NIF consistently supports organizations that portray Israel one-sidedly as a war criminal (like Yesh Din), often based on anonymous testimonies that are impossible to verify (like those from Breaking the Silence); organizations that seek to circumvent the Law of Return by granting illegal aliens permanent residence; or organizations that wish to make being born in Israel a cause for granting citizenship (Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and ASSAF, for example); and also organizations openly working to drag Israeli servicemen and women before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

According to a report by NGO Monitor, the NIF website formerly declared that it will not support organizations seeking to expose Israelis to ICC prosecution. But this statement, NGO Monitor notes, has since been removed.

B’Tselem, a human rights watchdog organization supported by the fund, portrays Israel as a “Jewish supremacy” and “apartheid” regime in its most recent report. Additionally, it actively seeks to remove the legal barrier to ICC persecution that has long existed: The assurance that Israel has a functioning judicial system that upholds human rights. Thus, for instance, B’Tselem received a grant from the government of the Netherlands which was to be used to assess the role of Israel’s High Court “with respect to the violation of the human rights of Palestinians.” According to B’Tselem, the High Court is merely a rubber stamp for the occupation.

Recently these efforts have begun to bear fruit and we have learned that Israel is indeed at risk of being exposed to an ICC investigation based on the supposition that the courts are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Other organizations supported by the fund have also worked to bring this about, among them Yesh Din and Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

But above and beyond all this, the litmus test that tells legitimate criticism of Israeli policy from attempts to undermine Zionism itself is one’s view of what the Palestinians call the “right of return,” a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish nation state by resettling the Palestinian diaspora within Israel’s 1967 boarders. If one supports this aspiration, then surely one cannot also claim that one only seeks to improve Israel’s democracy.

And when it comes to where they put their money, not their words, it seems the New Israel Fund has no particular problem with supporters of the “right of return”: It contributes, for example, to Adalah (section 4 of its proposed Democratic Constitution for Israel upholds the “right of return”) and Combatants for Peace (who declare their allegiance to this “right,” though, confusingly, they also say they don’t necessarily support its implementation).

The accumulated impression is therefore that the cloud of rhetorical ambiguity is less a code to be deciphered, and more a way to camouflage the fact that the fund invests in organization bent on destroying Zionism.

In light of all this I was not at all surprised to discover the NIF has signed a petition calling on the U.S. Federal Government not to adopt into law the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, as many other countries have. If this advice is followed, I said in the article that so enraged Myers, it would help open the door for the legitimization of antisemitism.

Myers’s answer was strangely legalistic: Amid much ad hominem and virtue signaling, what argument he offered hinged on the hairsplitting separation between adopting the IHRA definition for pedagogical use (which he says the fund supports) and making it legally binding. The fund opposes this, since it believes making the IHRA definition legally binding would lend it to misuse in suppressing freedom of speech and silencing legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.

It was indeed a delight to discover that while the American left has been seized by a new passion for censorship by stretching the definition of “hate speech,” there are still those who seek to expand rather than contract First Amendment rights. I wonder if Myers would have been as intent on this endeavor were the issue the misuse of the definition of Islamophobia, which has turned into a virtual prohibition on criticizing Muslim antisemitism.

I would have been more inclined to believe that Myers truly cares about the issue of freedom of speech if his rebuttal hadn’t evaded my main argument, which had nothing to do with the distinction between legally binding and merely pedagogical. Why, I asked, when the petition the fund signed discusses the possible misuses of the IHRA definition in silencing legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, does it use examples that have nothing to do with policy? If the fund wishes, as I do, to protect the right to criticize the policies of Israel’s government, why does it seek to exclude from the legal definition of antisemitism the claim that “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”?

Is the Zionism-is-racism stance somehow a critique of policy in the fund’s view? And why, if the fund opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, as Myers says, does it see “harmful overreach” in a declaration by the State Department under former Secretary Mike Pompeo that “the Global BDS Campaign [is] a manifestation of anti-Semitism”? Is there any exaggeration in calling a movement that wishes to force Israel to accept the “right of return” antisemitic?

The real reason for Myers’ ire, it seems, was my attempt to dispel the ambiguity behind which the fund keeps hiding. But 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-Israeli American left.

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