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New Israel Fund v. Zionist Organization of America
Battle of the letters to the editor
Peter B. Edelman, Pres. New Israel Fund 

ZOA Letter To Jewish Exponent

It was interesting to read the interview with the New Israel Fund's Eliezer Yaari. Yaari spent much time pointing out that "We're not about poking Israel in the eye," and that he's not a traitor, since he served in the Israeli air force (City & Suburb: " 'We're Not About Poking Israel in the Eye,' " June 1).

He claims NIF's work on behalf of Israel's Arab citizens is about fulfilling the ideals set forth in the nation's declaration of independence but one wonders if he "doth protest too much." In fact, as your article rightly informs your readers, Yaari explicitly argues that the questionable loyalty of some Israeli Arabs to the state should not be an impediment to NIF supporting them.

NIF has funded groups that promote anti-Israel divestment campaigns. Worse, it gave a stipend to a member of the International Solidarity Movement, which not only promotes divestment, as reported, but justifies Palestinian "armed struggle" and participates in efforts to impede legitimate counter-terrorist measures.

Another recipient of NIF's support was its 2004 Fellow, Shamai Leibowitz, who, according to the organization NGO Monitor, "has devoted great efforts to advancing the cause of economic and diplomatic war against the existence of the Jewish state."

The late Yitzhak Rabin once described another beneficiary of NIF's largesse, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, as the "Organization for the Rights of Hamas Terrorists."

Yaari states that NIF's goal is to make Israel "become a better place." How awarding funds to those who support extremism and violence against Israel will accomplish that goal remains a mystery.

-- Michael Goldblatt
Chairman, Board of Directors, Greater Philadelphia District, Zionist Organization of America

NIF Rebuttal To ZOA Letter

To The Readers of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice:

It is odd that ZOA chooses this time to question the value of work that attempts to better integrate the Israeli Arab community with its Jewish neighbors. The dozens of mainstream Jewish organizations that participated in the Israeli Arab Task Force fact-finding trip this past June would certainly agree with NIF that addressing the very real problems facing Israel's largest minority is a critically important issue for Israel's survival as a democratic state.

NIF has never funded groups that call for divestment. One Law Fellow, Shamai Leibowitz, did call for divestment and NIF immediately disassociated itself from that position, removed Mr. Leibowitz from the program and revised its selection process for the Law Fellow program.

One young Social Justice Fellow chose to work against house demolitions in the Palestinian territories, not with the International Solidarity Movement. Of course, the Israeli government itself has now renounced house demolitions as counterproductive to its objectives in the territories.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a flagship NIF grantee, has been carrying the most important civil and human rights battles to the Israeli Supreme Court for more than twenty years, winning legal battles against torture, legalized discrimination and other practices that disfigured and defiled the State of Israel and longstanding, traditional Jewish values. Like the ACLU in the U.S., some of ACRI's battles have been on behalf of unpopular people - and like the ACLU, ACRI picks the fights that most need to be fought to preserve Israel's democracy. We're proud of their track record, and of ours.

In general, the New Israel Fund does not demand that every grantee or Fellow march in lockstep with NIF on every issue of concern to Israeli society. Given our commitment to open debate and the free exchange of ideas in a diverse society, it would be hypocritical for NIF to require ideological conformity in exchange for funding. And given that we certainly reject the extremist assumptions of the ZOA, we are neither surprised nor concerned that they reject NIF's commitment to a just and democratic Israel.

-- Naomi Paiss
Director of Communications, New Israel Fund