An answer from the Reform movement

Recently I posted a copy of a letter I wrote to the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Reform movement in America, which criticized it for its support of the New Israel Fund (NIF). I was very pleased to receive a reply from a URJ official which explained its position.

Unfortunately, I don’t have permission to publish the statement. But I can reproduce my response (with some minor editing), which I think will make clear why I was not convinced.

Dear _______,

Thank you for the long and considered response. You are right that you haven’t convinced me. Here’s why:

1) Let’s dismiss some straw men. I don’t know who said it [yes I do; see update below], but the idea that ‘without the NIF there would be no Goldstone report’ is preposterous and I certainly don’t hold this position. I also do not think that nothing the NIF does has value; they do make grants to numerous worthwhile groups in addition to the 16 in question. Finally, I was very happy to see Rabbi [Eric] Yoffie’s denunciation of the Goldstone report, and do not doubt your love of Israel or commitment to Jewish values.

2) Regarding the numbers, I deliberately didn’t mention the 92% figure in my letter in order to avoid getting into an arithmetic contest. What Im Tirtzu claimed was that 92% of the footnotes from non-governmental Israeli sources which were judged negative, came from the 16 NGOs. This is correct — or if it’s wrong, we can still say ‘the great majority’. No, they were not entirely responsible for the Goldstone report — but they contributed mightily, especially when you consider the extra weight given to an Israeli source accusing the IDF of crimes.

3) I think the argument should be over whether the activities of the ‘dirty sixteen’ are damaging to Israel’s security, and not over who is trying to ‘stifle’ whom. In any event, accusations of “muzzling” and “McCarthyism” which have been leveled at Im Tirtzu are preposterous in view of the unequal distribution of media power between the NIF, with its budget of $32 million per year and a student organization which may have received a few hundred thousand dollars in funding, most of which was probably spent on those controversial full-page advertisements.

4) Of course human rights organizations should point out human rights abuses, but these particular organizations are clearly biased against Israel. Just two examples: a) b’Tselem has supported the attempts of Palestinians, extremist Israelis and ‘internationals’ to damage the security barrier and provoke Israeli responses in weekly ‘nonviolent demonstrations’ which invariably become violent; and b) the Israeli-Arab ‘civil rights’ organizations supported by NIF like Adalah and Mossawa consistently conflate legitimate civil rights issues with Palestinian national aspirations, aspirations to ‘de-Judaize’ the state. These NGOs are also heavily funded by hostile European governments and church groups.

A very good summary of the relationship of the NIF-funded NGOs to Goldstone and of their anti-Israel activities in general can be found here, including a table showing funds received from NIF and European governments.

5) We Americans must be careful to not draw false analogies between Israel and the US re civil rights. The US is hugely powerful, relatively secure, and has been at peace for most of its existence. Israel, despite its powerful military and nuclear weapons is tiny and highly vulnerable, and has been at war to one degree or another since its creation, almost 62 years ago. Indeed, one can argue that the Arab struggle against Jewish sovereignty has been going one for about 100 years.

So while I think that everyone’s human rights ought to be fully protected, it’s impossible to ignore the context of existential war in which Israel finds herself.

It’s also important to note that Israel’s enemies understand quite well the Western (and Israeli) attitude toward human rights and free speech, and make use of it effectively to advance their goal — which, paradoxically, is anything but a free and open society in which Jews have rights or self-determination.

— Vic Rosenthal

Update [2038 PST]: I just realized that it was Im Tirtzu itself (see the photo of the sign in a previous post) that said that ‘without the NIF there would be no Goldstone report’. Oops.

Im Tirtzu was wrong about this — there would have been a Goldstone report if the UN had to depend on Mein Kampf for footnotes — but there is no doubt that the NGOs I called the ‘dirty sixteen’ contributed greatly to it.

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