Rightist Israeli Politicians Boycott Democracy Conference Over NGO Backing

Politicians announced they would not participate in a conference initiated by Haaretz because of 'funding by an anti-Zionist body,' the New Israel Fund.

Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Likud Knesset members and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett canceled their participation Monday in next month's Israel Democracy Conference, sponsored by Haaretz, because the New Israel Fund is financing part of it.

The conference is scheduled for Feburary 17 in the Tel Aviv Port and will deal with the limits of freedom of expression, the independence of the High Court of Justice and the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

President Reuven Rivlin, Tzipi Livni, Shas chairman Arye Deri, Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On and Habayit Hayehudi members Ayelet Shaked and Yinon Megel are among the expected attendees. The Israel Democracy Institute is also involved in the conference.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who was supposed to speak at the conference, tweeted that he rescinded his participation but would be happy to come if the NIF would back out.

Deputy Ministers Tzahi Hanegbi and Tzipi Hotovely as well as Likud MK Zeev Elkin, who were supposed to take part in various meetings of the conference, also announced they would not be coming.

"The Likud, as a nationalist ideological party, will not cooperate with bodies that are constantly busy with blackening the face of Israel," the Likud announced. "The NIF funds dozens of radical, leftist organizations, such as B'tselem, Breaking the Silence, Adalah and Machsom Watch, and it is one of the main bodies behind the Goldstone Report."

Earlier Monday, the NIF demanded that the Likud retract claims that the fund is involved in the current elections and funding campaign organization V15. The NIF called the charges a pack of lies in the warning letter it sent to the Likud's legal adviser and other party officials. "The New Israel Fund wasn't and is not involved, neither directly or indirectly, in funding the so-called V15 campaign," it wrote. "In addition, it is also has not financially supported 'One Voice' for years," referring to the grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace organization, "and it is clear that it has no connection – not even indirectly – to the organization's current activities, whatever they may be."