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Thursday, December 13, 2012

"New Israel Fund" tries, and fails, to defend its grantees demonizing Israel

Im Tirtzu wrote an open letter to the new head of the New Israel Fund, which funds anti-Israel NGOs:
Dear Mr. Lurie:

We write to ask a simple question: Do you stand by the latest accusations NIF-funded groups are making against Israel?

After Operation Cast Lead in 2009, groups funded by the NIF led a campaign that sought to portray Israel as a war criminal and human rights violator. That campaign culminated in the Goldstone Report, a ruthlessly biased attack on Israel that cited NIF groups hundreds of times. Even Judge Goldstone himself has disowned it.

Now, in the weeks after the latest conflict in Gaza, NIF groups are once again making misleading and unfounded accusations against the IDF.

B’tselem, Adalah, Gisha, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel are claiming that the IDF targeted journalists and civilians, violated international law, and is perpetrating “collective punishment,” a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

In the weeks leading up to Israel’s response, as terrorist rockets forced thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters, none of these groups criticized the attacks or stood up for Israel’s right – its human right, and its right under international law – to defend itself.

Despite this troubling record, we hold out hope for your leadership as the new president of the New Israel Fund. We ask that you hold the groups you fund responsible for the veracity of their accusations, and that you demand just as much accountability from them as they do from the IDF.

And if you do not stand by their latest false accusations, Israelis deserve to know: What will you do to reform the New Israel Fund?

Sincerely,

Im Tirtzu

The Zionist Student Movement
The NIF response is astonishing (not yet online):
In today’s “open letter” to the New Israel Fund chair, the Im Tirtzu organization uses allegation, misrepresentation and outright falsehood to make their case.

* Many fewer civilian lives were lost during Operation Pillar of Defense than in Cast Lead four years ago. This is partially because the Israel Defense Forces, publicly and to its credit, used reports from human rights organizations to improve its operational procedures to better avoid civilian casualties.

The work of NIF-supported human rights organizations saved lives.
The percentage of civilians killed compared to militants in Pillar of Defense is roughly the same as for Cast Lead, about 1 to 1. 

Anyone who has read the IDF responses to Goldstone would know that the processes meant to protect civilians pre-dates Cast Lead. Of course, the IDF is always looking to improve, and it looks at criticism from all corners, but the IDF goes to lengths that are literally unprecedented by any other army to minimize civilian casualties. For the NIF to take credit for this is not only obviously false, but more than a little self-serving. And its comparison of casualties in two completely different scales of conflict is knowingly deceptive.

NIF's response is false.
* For three years, Im Tirtzu has accused the Israeli human rights community of being the prime source for the Goldstone report. Repeating a lie loudly and frequently doesn’t make it so. An objective analysis proved that less than two percent of the Goldstone Report’s negative findings about the IDF during Operation Cast Lead were attributable to human rights organizations (link); the vast majority of information came from public sources in the Israeli government and military.
Im Tirtzu does not make that claim in this open letter. It says that the anti-Israel campaign from NGOs culminated in the Goldstone Report and that NIF grantees were cited extensively. Im Tirtzu's language here is mostly accurate (maybe not "hundreds of times" but well over a hundred.) NIF's response is false.
*       Not one of the human rights organizations Im Tirtzu attacks accused Israel of war crimes in the recent Gaza action. One organization signed a letter asking for investigation of possible breaches of the Geneva convention by both sides in the conflict.
In Im Tirtzu's fact sheet, they document  the accusations with citations:

B’Tselem statement the day after Operation Pillar of Defense began accused Israel of targeting civilians: “As was the case four years ago [in Operation Cast Lead], Israeli officials are now using the conduct of Palestinian organizations to justify harm to Palestinian civilians….The fact that one side violates the law does not give the other side the right to violate it as well.” (HERE) Days later, B’Tselem accused Israel of targeting journalists (HERE) despite the fact that the “journalists” were well-known senior terrorists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad. (HERE) Adalah, another flagship NIF grantee – it seeks as an official position the end of Israel as a Jewish State – accused Israel of “a serious violation of the laws of war.” (HERE)   Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, accused Israel of “collective punishment” during the conflict. (HERE) Collective punishment is a war crime under Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention. The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel signed a statement claiming, without offering any specifics, “concrete evidence indicating the commission of war crimes” by Israel. The statement also blamed Israel entirely for Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and called for another Goldstone-style “investigation” of Israel at the United Nations. (HERE

NIF's response is false.

The NIF response letter continues:
*   The right to dissent is often a casualty of war. After Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s human rights community were threatened and vilified and it is now happening again. As in any conflict anywhere, it is the responsibility of human rights groups to monitor and report, and it is their right and everyone’s to offer opinions regarding the conduct of the conflict. While NIF does not necessarily agree with the positions of the many organizations we support, we staunchly defend their right to do their jobs, dissent from the majority based on their own analyses, and point out controversial issues of concern.
Here, the NIF is acknowledging that they cannot defend everything that the organizations they fund do - but they are willing to continue to fund them nonetheless! Is there any oversight? Are there any checks and balances? Are there any reviews of issues that the NIF might find problematic? Or is an organization's criticism of Israel enough to give it the benefit of the doubt?

Moreover, it is a bit hypocritical to complain about NGO's being "vilified" when that is exactly what they do to Israel, every day. The simple fact is that the NGOs must adhere to the standards they demand from the Israeli government and the IDF. Demanding that their biases, their sources of funding, their methodologies and the identity and affiliations of their researchers be exposed is simply asking them to be transparent - something that any legitimate watchdog organization should welcome. They draw conclusions about Israeli motivations using far, far less credible evidence than their detractors use to criticize them. It is when they stonewall on this vital information that we can start to wonder if they are as pure and objective as they claim to be.

Any unbiased observer must conclude that they are not - far from it. And this letter from NIF proves it.

This doesn't mean that what they do is worthless - all democracies must have checks and balances, and Israel is no exception. But when they cross the line from truth into lies, as the NIF response does, it is reasonable to question everything else about them.

It is not a small matter. While the NGOs claim that they are working to save people's lives, their work can also endanger people's lives. The debate as to where the line must be drawn between valuing some lives and endangering other lives during wartime is a valuable one, and one that the IDF does every day with or without the NIF.

Criticism is fine - but lies are not. This response shows that, apparently, the funder of these anti-Israel NGOs does not know the difference.

(h/t N.)