Commentary Magazine


Topic: New Israel Fund

The New Israel Fund—Civil Rights or Political Warfare: An Exchange

Editor’s note: In her March 28 post “An Alternative Model for Pro-Israel Liberals,” Evelyn Gordon compared the work of philanthropist Robert Price to that of the New Israel Fund and J Street. The New Israel Fund’s Naomi Paiss has written in defense of her group. Evelyn Gordon’s response follows.

In the latest paternalistic attack on pro-Israel progressives, Evelyn Gordon attempted to save liberals from themselves. By equating the New Israel Fund and J Street with disloyalty to Israel, she resurrects a disproven canard now only used by those with an ultra-nationalist political agenda. Her depiction of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and our grantees is particularly scathing. And wrong.

The New Israel Fund has always prided itself on being a cutting-edge organization. We gave Israel’s first rape crisis centers their seed money, we were the only organization outside of Israel to support the 2011 social justice protests, and our partners have been instrumental in shaping Israel’s human-rights law and policy.  We were also the first funders of Arab civil society in Israel. 

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Editor’s note: In her March 28 post “An Alternative Model for Pro-Israel Liberals,” Evelyn Gordon compared the work of philanthropist Robert Price to that of the New Israel Fund and J Street. The New Israel Fund’s Naomi Paiss has written in defense of her group. Evelyn Gordon’s response follows.

In the latest paternalistic attack on pro-Israel progressives, Evelyn Gordon attempted to save liberals from themselves. By equating the New Israel Fund and J Street with disloyalty to Israel, she resurrects a disproven canard now only used by those with an ultra-nationalist political agenda. Her depiction of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and our grantees is particularly scathing. And wrong.

The New Israel Fund has always prided itself on being a cutting-edge organization. We gave Israel’s first rape crisis centers their seed money, we were the only organization outside of Israel to support the 2011 social justice protests, and our partners have been instrumental in shaping Israel’s human-rights law and policy.  We were also the first funders of Arab civil society in Israel. 

Our support in the Arab sector has always been multi-faceted. We fund employment and empowerment opportunities for Arab youth at-risk around the country. We work to redress unequal funding to Arab schools and communities. We fight for greater Arab representation on public bodies and committees. And no one does more for Arab and Bedouin women, on issues ranging from polygamy and honor killings to drastically increasing their ability to become leaders in their communities. A glance at our website and list of just our current grantees could have spared COMMENTARY the embarrassment of running a column so contrary to fact.

And, yes, we proudly fund groups like Adalah and Mossawa who engage in critical work on behalf of the Palestinian Israeli communities they serve, using strategies of litigation and community organizing.

Gordon’s depiction of Adalah as undermining Israel and exacerbating anti-Arab discrimination is simply ludicrous. Funding Adalah means that Palestinian Israelis have a voice in the Israeli courts. In 2011, Adalah won a precedent-setting case on behalf of the Palestinian Israeli Zubeidat family, whose application to move into the town of Rakefet was rejected on the basis that they were “socially unsuitable” to live in the town. Last year, another Adalah petition resulted in the cancellation of 51 demolition orders in the unrecognized Negev Bedouin village of Alsira. Although unrecognized, Alsira has been in existence since before the founding of Israel. If carried out, the demolition would have left more than 400 homeless.  

Adalah’s work often benefits other marginalized groups, including achieving a victory a few years ago permitting Israelis—all Israelis—receiving social welfare benefits to own cars, thereby enlarging their employment opportunities.

In the U.S., groups working to promote and protect minority rights are lauded. Just look at the NAACP, La Raza, or for that matter, the ADL. Some factions in Israel, however, have been keen to vilify not only the specific work of groups working for minority rights, but the mere right of such groups to exist.

Israelis, though, are keenly aware of the issues facing minority populations. In a recently published report on racism in Israel, an astounding 95 percent of Israelis expressed concern about racism in the country. And only a little over 10 percent felt the government response was adequate. 

Minority rights for the Arab community often come hand in hand with progress for other marginalized sectors. The big-tent Coalition Against Racism is one group gaining traction in the efforts to make Israel more inclusive. A broad partnership spanning the Israeli spectrum, the group is made up of organizations representing Palestinian Israelis, Mizrachim, Ethiopians, Russians, the Reform movement, the social justice movement, and more. The coalition is an unprecedented endeavor. Rarely in Israel do such disparate groups come together to discuss and formulate joint solutions to make Israel a more just and equal society for everyone. The NIF-supported coalition, who just visited the U.S. to an enthusiastic reception by American Jewish groups, is an amazing model that represents the best of Israel.

We at the New Israel Fund believe in a broad-based and integrated approach to changing Israeli society. And that is exactly why it is so critical to support the civil society groups engaged in our work on the ground, and why our fundraising has increased every year while that of other Jewish organizations is stagnant or declining. American Jews do have a heartfelt investment in the liberal values of democracy, equality, and social justice. Their investment in NIF means they understand that the activists and organizations we support are working for a better Israel.  

Naomi Paiss is the Vice President for Public Affairs at the New Israel Fund

Evelyn Gordon replies:

Naomi Paiss argues that NIF supports a wide spectrum of activity in Israel, citing the fund’s list of current grantees to prove this point. This list indeed includes many unexceptionable organizations–groups that, even if I disagree with them, genuinely strive to improve Israel according to their own lights. And if funding them were all NIF did, neither I nor most other Israelis would have any problem with its operations.

But these innocuous grantees don’t change the fact that NIF also funds many organizations actively engaged in political warfare against Israel. Thus every donation to NIF that isn’t earmarked for a specific organization ends up funding anti-Israel political warfare.

To take just one example, numerous NIF-funded organizations contributed to the infamous Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of “war crimes” during its 2009 war in Gaza and recommended indicting it in the International Criminal Court. Many of these groups remain NIF grantees to this day, including Adalah, Breaking the Silence, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Bimkom, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights. The Goldstone Report’s anti-Israel slurs have been so discredited that even its lead author has repudiated it. The commission’s mandate was thus to arrive at a predetermined verdict—or in other words, to conduct political warfare against Israel rather than honestly to investigate the facts. Consequently, the organizations that submitted anti-Israel allegations to it knowingly contributed to this warfare. Yet the NIF apparently has no problem with its grantees engaging in such activity.

Nor was the Goldstone Report an aberration: Many NIF grantees routinely spend more time and effort libeling Israel overseas than trying to reform it at home. Take, for instance, Breaking the Silence, whose stated mission is “to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories” by disseminating “testimony” from former soldiers about alleged crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces. But most Israelis know BTS’s claims of widespread abuse are false. Moreover, BTS refuses to divulge details that would enable the IDF to investigate its allegations and (if warranted) prosecute the perpetrators–something that would actually benefit the country by helping to squelch any abuses that do occur. For both reasons, the organization has found little traction at home.

So instead, BTS began taking its “testimony” on tour to college campuses throughout the U.S.–places that are already hotbeds of anti-Israel activity, and where there’s no ready supply of IDF veterans to refute its allegations. Smearing the IDF to American college students does nothing to change the army’s behavior, but it does erode Israel’s support overseas. In short, it’s simply anti-Israel political warfare.

This brings us to Ms. Paiss’s second main argument: that even the grantees I consider problematic also do much laudable work, and therefore deserve support. Here, my response is the same as it was with respect to supporting NIF itself: If these organizations confined themselves to, say, bringing anti-discrimination lawsuits, I’d have no problem with NIF supporting them. But Adalah, ACRI, Bimkom, BTS, PCATI, and many other NIF grantees also spend a lot of time and money on anti-Israel political warfare. Thus by funding these organizations, NIF is funding that warfare–and that’s true even if the grant is earmarked for other purposes, since money is fungible.

Adalah, whose activities Ms. Paiss defends at great length, is an excellent example: In addition to its submissions to Goldstone, it has urged other countries to refer Israel to the ICC, to “re-evaluate their relationship with Israel” and to end “normal relations” with it. It co-authored a report that accuses Israel of being “a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.” It drafted and still promotes a “democratic constitution” that would eradicate the Jewish state by mandating a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, end Israel’s role as a safe haven for Jews worldwide by abolishing the Law of Return, grant Arab parties a de facto veto over all legislation, and more. All this, incidentally, would seem to violate two of the NIF’s own funding guidelines: Adalah “Works to deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel” via projects like its “democratic constitution,” and “Employ[s] racist or derogatory language” by hurling slanders like “apartheid” at Israel. And the same goes for many other NIF grantees (NGO Monitor has an excellent summary here; clicking on its links provides additional detail). 

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Im Tirtzu Ad Calls Out NIF for “Anti-Israel” Funding

Right-leaning Israeli campus group Im Tirtzu released an ad today set to run in Jewish newspapers that accuses the left-leaning New Israel Fund of financing groups that slandered the Israel Defense Forces in its recent Gaza intervention. The ad takes the form of an open letter to NIF President Brian Lurie, and will run in “20 of the largest-circulation Jewish newspapers across the United States,” according to Im Tirtzu. 

Here’s the crux of the argument in the letter (which can be read in full here):

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Right-leaning Israeli campus group Im Tirtzu released an ad today set to run in Jewish newspapers that accuses the left-leaning New Israel Fund of financing groups that slandered the Israel Defense Forces in its recent Gaza intervention. The ad takes the form of an open letter to NIF President Brian Lurie, and will run in “20 of the largest-circulation Jewish newspapers across the United States,” according to Im Tirtzu. 

Here’s the crux of the argument in the letter (which can be read in full here):

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

NIF’s CEO Daniel Sokatch responded in a statement criticizing Im Tirtzu’s letter as inaccurate, and blasting the group as “extreme Israeli ultra-nationalists.”

“Today, on International Human Rights Day, we honor the organizations and the nations that respect and expand human rights, especially in regions of conflict,” said Sokatch. “It is ironic that Im Tirtzu is again peddling the twisted logic that Israeli attention to human rights somehow hurts Israel’s international reputation. It is the vitality of Israel’s civil society, and of a society that can look at its own conduct to remedy mistakes and injustice, that aligns Israel with the humanistic democracies that share those values.”

Im Tirtzu has battled with NIF in the past, but this is the first time it’s taking the fight to NIF’s home turf. While the umbrella organization finances groups in Israel, much of its funding comes from the American Jewish community. If you’re looking to go after NIF effectively, that’s the way to do it–not by objecting in Israel to the groups it funds, but by jeopardizing its funding sources in the U.S. Many of NIF’s supporters likely still view it as a liberal but Zionist mainstream group. Clearly Im Tirtzu hopes to chip away at that image through these advertisements.

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NIF Cuts Off Funding for BDS Groups

Some Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions groups are going to have to find a new way to bankroll their important anti-Israel endeavors (hummus boycotts, costume parties, impromptu choral performances) because the New Israel Fund is cutting off funding for organizations involved in the BDS movement.

NIF has been criticized for giving grants to groups that engage in anti-Israel boycott campaigns, such as Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, Mossawa, Machsom Watch, and Women Against Violence. The fund amended its website on Dec. 13 to reflect its change in policy:

The NIF opposes the global BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as ineffective and counterproductive and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel.

NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.

I’m really pleased to see NIF finally come around on this issue. But as Jeffrey Goldberg noted at the Atlantic, NIF’s statement stopped short of rebuking the BDS movement as a whole. “I was slightly taken aback by [CEO Daniel] Sokatch’s statement that, ‘segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel,’” wrote Goldberg. “I would say that undermining the existence of the state of Israel is this movement’s raison d’etre.”

And while the change in policy is still new, several of the boycott groups that NIF was funding have yet to remove their affiliations with NIF from their websites. Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa are still asking their donors to route contributions through NIF.

NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that has pressured the New Israel Fund to cut ties with BDS groups, asked for these links to be removed. “NIF now needs to implement these important new guidelines,” [NGO Monitor president] Professor Gerald Steinberg [wrote]. “Despite NIF’s new policy, CWP’s and Who Profits’ websites still provide links for donations via NIF.  These links should be removed immediately. We also expect NIF to clarify how and when the new grant guidelines will be enforced, and we are prepared to work with NIF and its donors in their implementation. As NIF severs ties with groups that promote BDS, it is on the same page as NGO Monitor.”

Also, while scrolling through NIF’s funding guidelines on its website, I came across another statement outlining the group’s policy on “lawfare” that (I think) is new:

As the leading organization advancing democracy in Israel, the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability.

With a free press, involved citizenry, a strong and independent judiciary, and a track record of officially constituted commissions and committees of inquiry, there are internal means to hold Israeli leaders accountable to the law, and we work to strengthen all those institutions. We therefore firmly oppose attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in foreign courts as an inherent principle of our dedication to Israeli democracy.

While it’s great to hear that NIF opposes lawfare, this statement means absolutely nothing unless the organization is willing to stop funding organizations that use lawfare tactics against Israel. The New Israel Fund practically is the lawfare movement — its grants basically keep the campaign alive. If NIF cut off financing to lawfare groups, it could cripple the movement.

So while these policy changes are an improvement, it looks like NIF still has a ways to go before it can be considered a respectable pro-Israel group.

Some Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions groups are going to have to find a new way to bankroll their important anti-Israel endeavors (hummus boycotts, costume parties, impromptu choral performances) because the New Israel Fund is cutting off funding for organizations involved in the BDS movement.

NIF has been criticized for giving grants to groups that engage in anti-Israel boycott campaigns, such as Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, Mossawa, Machsom Watch, and Women Against Violence. The fund amended its website on Dec. 13 to reflect its change in policy:

The NIF opposes the global BDS movement, views the use of these tactics as ineffective and counterproductive and is concerned that segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel.

NIF will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.

I’m really pleased to see NIF finally come around on this issue. But as Jeffrey Goldberg noted at the Atlantic, NIF’s statement stopped short of rebuking the BDS movement as a whole. “I was slightly taken aback by [CEO Daniel] Sokatch’s statement that, ‘segments of this movement seek to undermine the existence of the state of Israel,’” wrote Goldberg. “I would say that undermining the existence of the state of Israel is this movement’s raison d’etre.”

And while the change in policy is still new, several of the boycott groups that NIF was funding have yet to remove their affiliations with NIF from their websites. Concerned Women for Peace, Israel Social TV, and Mossawa are still asking their donors to route contributions through NIF.

NGO Monitor, a watchdog group that has pressured the New Israel Fund to cut ties with BDS groups, asked for these links to be removed. “NIF now needs to implement these important new guidelines,” [NGO Monitor president] Professor Gerald Steinberg [wrote]. “Despite NIF’s new policy, CWP’s and Who Profits’ websites still provide links for donations via NIF.  These links should be removed immediately. We also expect NIF to clarify how and when the new grant guidelines will be enforced, and we are prepared to work with NIF and its donors in their implementation. As NIF severs ties with groups that promote BDS, it is on the same page as NGO Monitor.”

Also, while scrolling through NIF’s funding guidelines on its website, I came across another statement outlining the group’s policy on “lawfare” that (I think) is new:

As the leading organization advancing democracy in Israel, the New Israel Fund strongly believes that our job is to work within Israel to ensure democratic accountability.

With a free press, involved citizenry, a strong and independent judiciary, and a track record of officially constituted commissions and committees of inquiry, there are internal means to hold Israeli leaders accountable to the law, and we work to strengthen all those institutions. We therefore firmly oppose attempts to prosecute Israeli officials in foreign courts as an inherent principle of our dedication to Israeli democracy.

While it’s great to hear that NIF opposes lawfare, this statement means absolutely nothing unless the organization is willing to stop funding organizations that use lawfare tactics against Israel. The New Israel Fund practically is the lawfare movement — its grants basically keep the campaign alive. If NIF cut off financing to lawfare groups, it could cripple the movement.

So while these policy changes are an improvement, it looks like NIF still has a ways to go before it can be considered a respectable pro-Israel group.

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Those Christian Zionists Are at It Again

So the evangelicals are planting trees in Israel to help with the Carmel-fire disaster-relief effort? Clearly this is some sort of Christian Zionist ploy to entice more Jews into making aliyah so that the End of Days comes faster and we can finally get to the part when the Jewish people are condemned to an eternity of hellfire. Or at least I imagine that’s how Tikkun would frame it.

From the Jewish National Fund’s press release:

Representatives of the Ministry of Tourism KKL-JNF USA have begun to work together to recruit leaders and heads of the U.S. Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities for the rehabilitation of the Carmel forest region. Already in the coming days, fundraising campaigns aimed at forest restoration will begin among the American Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities with a view to planting trees to rehabilitate the Carmel forest area during the New Year for Trees (Tu Bishvat) which falls on 20.1.11.

The Carmel blaze destroyed more than 5 million trees, so this is a welcome effort. Israel is fortunate to have the support of the Christian Zionists, especially when some other groups — such as the New Israel Fund, an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel” — spend much of their funds and energy supporting those trying to get Tzipi Livni arrested in Europe.

So the evangelicals are planting trees in Israel to help with the Carmel-fire disaster-relief effort? Clearly this is some sort of Christian Zionist ploy to entice more Jews into making aliyah so that the End of Days comes faster and we can finally get to the part when the Jewish people are condemned to an eternity of hellfire. Or at least I imagine that’s how Tikkun would frame it.

From the Jewish National Fund’s press release:

Representatives of the Ministry of Tourism KKL-JNF USA have begun to work together to recruit leaders and heads of the U.S. Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities for the rehabilitation of the Carmel forest region. Already in the coming days, fundraising campaigns aimed at forest restoration will begin among the American Jewish and Evangelical Christian communities with a view to planting trees to rehabilitate the Carmel forest area during the New Year for Trees (Tu Bishvat) which falls on 20.1.11.

The Carmel blaze destroyed more than 5 million trees, so this is a welcome effort. Israel is fortunate to have the support of the Christian Zionists, especially when some other groups — such as the New Israel Fund, an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel” — spend much of their funds and energy supporting those trying to get Tzipi Livni arrested in Europe.

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Pulling Back the Curtain on the NGO Scam

The worldwide effort by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state takes many forms. In international bodies, nation-states use the patina of respectability to indict and defame Israel. And a crop of NGOs have made it a full-time job, under the guise of “humanitarian” work, to carry out the same mission. Now Israel is pushing back, endeavoring to find out just who is behind these outfits.

NGO Monitor reports:

In another step towards greater transparency in funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Israel, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee tomorrow will discuss a bill to introduce transparency for NGOS that receive foreign government support. The draft legislation is sponsored by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and constitutes a revision of an earlier text introduced in February.

In this hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, will provide background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“This bill is an important step towards protecting Israeli democracy and civil society from manipulation,” Steinberg comments. “While foreign governments allocate funds to many activities and organizations in Israel, the secrecy regarding political advocacy groups stands out, as does the role of recipient groups in demonization through the UN, the European parliament, and foreign capitals.”

“Many political advocacy NGOs, many of which are funded by the EU, distort international law to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel,” Steinberg stated to the European Parliament. “At the same time, they belie their claim to be working for universal human rights by giving very little attention to the rights of Israelis. While EU-funded NGOs have issued hundreds of reports condemning Israel, they have shown very little concern for the rights of the children from Sderot.” …

Steinberg adds, “Israelis, like citizens of all democracies, have the right to know how political advocacy groups receive their funding and how they look to fulfill their missions. Unfortunately, Israeli democracy often is easily exploited and manipulated.  Funding transparency will give Israelis the information necessary to assess these groups and their activities.”

A savvy pro-Israel activist e-mailed me to explain that this is going to upset a lot of Israel’s adversaries:

[T]he bottom line is that the EU governments are funding the delegitimization war on Israel. All these NGO’s you see running around, suing the government in court, lobbying, releasing “studies” about this and that Israeli “crime” or “violation” — where does the money come from? It comes from the EU. It’s a war they’re waging. This bill in the Knesset aims to do something very simple: require transparency in the funding of NGO’s that operate in Israel and bankrolled by foreign governments. The lefty “human rights” crowd is completely freaked out about this. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars.

In a must-read op-ed, Professor Steinberg explains the insidious work of the NGOs, as well as the EU’s role in funding and enabling the onslaught against the Jewish state. Steinberg writes:

Examples of NGO campaigns are, unfortunately, plentiful. The recent “Free Gaza” flotilla incident demonstrated the sophisticated use of the “humanitarian,” “peace” and “non-governmental” labels to cover a preplanned attack on IDF soldiers, resulting in injuries and deaths. Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation) – a Turkish “charity” with close links to Hamas, jihadist groups, and the Turkish government – led the efforts in this instance.

Working with European and American anti-Israel campaigners, including the confrontational International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they tapped into a wider diplomatic and political campaign driven by the false charges of “war crimes” and “collective punishment.”

The possibility that “anonymous officials in European governments” would be exposed as central players in this offensive has understandably set off alarm bells. So naturally, the  Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah (which Steinberg explains is “funded by the New Israel Fund-NIF and the European Union [and] portrays ‘Israel as an inherent undemocratic state'”) and other groups are trying to block the measure. “These groups fear that they too would lose their funding and impact, and placed their private agendas and interests above the right of the public to know who is paying for the de-legitimization efforts.”

Well, transparency would certainly be a step in the right direction. And those on the left here and around the world who say they are oh so concerned about Israel’s democratic character should cheer and support this development, right? Don’t hold your breath — the prospect that these “human rights” and “humanitarian” groups (which provide so much fodder for the daily Israel-bashing) might be exposed as the pawns of garden-variety European anti-Semites and Israel-haters is not one, I assure you, that they are cheering.

The worldwide effort by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the Jewish state takes many forms. In international bodies, nation-states use the patina of respectability to indict and defame Israel. And a crop of NGOs have made it a full-time job, under the guise of “humanitarian” work, to carry out the same mission. Now Israel is pushing back, endeavoring to find out just who is behind these outfits.

NGO Monitor reports:

In another step towards greater transparency in funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Israel, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee tomorrow will discuss a bill to introduce transparency for NGOS that receive foreign government support. The draft legislation is sponsored by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), and constitutes a revision of an earlier text introduced in February.

In this hearing, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, will provide background information and analysis on the role played by the European Union (EU) and member states in secretly funding Palestinian, Israeli, and other NGOs and “civil society” organizations.

“This bill is an important step towards protecting Israeli democracy and civil society from manipulation,” Steinberg comments. “While foreign governments allocate funds to many activities and organizations in Israel, the secrecy regarding political advocacy groups stands out, as does the role of recipient groups in demonization through the UN, the European parliament, and foreign capitals.”

“Many political advocacy NGOs, many of which are funded by the EU, distort international law to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel,” Steinberg stated to the European Parliament. “At the same time, they belie their claim to be working for universal human rights by giving very little attention to the rights of Israelis. While EU-funded NGOs have issued hundreds of reports condemning Israel, they have shown very little concern for the rights of the children from Sderot.” …

Steinberg adds, “Israelis, like citizens of all democracies, have the right to know how political advocacy groups receive their funding and how they look to fulfill their missions. Unfortunately, Israeli democracy often is easily exploited and manipulated.  Funding transparency will give Israelis the information necessary to assess these groups and their activities.”

A savvy pro-Israel activist e-mailed me to explain that this is going to upset a lot of Israel’s adversaries:

[T]he bottom line is that the EU governments are funding the delegitimization war on Israel. All these NGO’s you see running around, suing the government in court, lobbying, releasing “studies” about this and that Israeli “crime” or “violation” — where does the money come from? It comes from the EU. It’s a war they’re waging. This bill in the Knesset aims to do something very simple: require transparency in the funding of NGO’s that operate in Israel and bankrolled by foreign governments. The lefty “human rights” crowd is completely freaked out about this. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars.

In a must-read op-ed, Professor Steinberg explains the insidious work of the NGOs, as well as the EU’s role in funding and enabling the onslaught against the Jewish state. Steinberg writes:

Examples of NGO campaigns are, unfortunately, plentiful. The recent “Free Gaza” flotilla incident demonstrated the sophisticated use of the “humanitarian,” “peace” and “non-governmental” labels to cover a preplanned attack on IDF soldiers, resulting in injuries and deaths. Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation) – a Turkish “charity” with close links to Hamas, jihadist groups, and the Turkish government – led the efforts in this instance.

Working with European and American anti-Israel campaigners, including the confrontational International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they tapped into a wider diplomatic and political campaign driven by the false charges of “war crimes” and “collective punishment.”

The possibility that “anonymous officials in European governments” would be exposed as central players in this offensive has understandably set off alarm bells. So naturally, the  Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah (which Steinberg explains is “funded by the New Israel Fund-NIF and the European Union [and] portrays ‘Israel as an inherent undemocratic state'”) and other groups are trying to block the measure. “These groups fear that they too would lose their funding and impact, and placed their private agendas and interests above the right of the public to know who is paying for the de-legitimization efforts.”

Well, transparency would certainly be a step in the right direction. And those on the left here and around the world who say they are oh so concerned about Israel’s democratic character should cheer and support this development, right? Don’t hold your breath — the prospect that these “human rights” and “humanitarian” groups (which provide so much fodder for the daily Israel-bashing) might be exposed as the pawns of garden-variety European anti-Semites and Israel-haters is not one, I assure you, that they are cheering.

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Follow the Money

This phrase, made famous by Deep Throat, should become the guiding principle for people concerned with the growing effectiveness of the NGO movement’s effort to convince the Western world that Israel is a uniquely guilty human-rights and international-law violator.

An important introductory guide to the largely unscrutinized world of NGO funding has been provided by Jonathan Rosenblum. I bet you didn’t know how large the annual budget of the New Israel Fund is: last year, it was $32 million. That’s an immense amount of money, and a great deal of it is doled out to NGOs with innocuous-sounding names, like The Coalition of Women for Peace, but that, in fact, support the boycott, divest, and sanction movement, the “right of return,” the branding of Israel as an “apartheid state,” and other causes antithetical to peace.

It might turn out that the Goldstone Report, despite all the damage it has done, will end up serving a worthy purpose: it is awakening the pro-Israel community to the reality that many organizations that traffic in the language of human rights and international law have no interest in either — their real goal is the crippling of one particular state, and they have merely discovered an effective vocabulary to employ that gives their ugly cause a patina of nobility. To understand how the NGO movement works, follow the money.

This phrase, made famous by Deep Throat, should become the guiding principle for people concerned with the growing effectiveness of the NGO movement’s effort to convince the Western world that Israel is a uniquely guilty human-rights and international-law violator.

An important introductory guide to the largely unscrutinized world of NGO funding has been provided by Jonathan Rosenblum. I bet you didn’t know how large the annual budget of the New Israel Fund is: last year, it was $32 million. That’s an immense amount of money, and a great deal of it is doled out to NGOs with innocuous-sounding names, like The Coalition of Women for Peace, but that, in fact, support the boycott, divest, and sanction movement, the “right of return,” the branding of Israel as an “apartheid state,” and other causes antithetical to peace.

It might turn out that the Goldstone Report, despite all the damage it has done, will end up serving a worthy purpose: it is awakening the pro-Israel community to the reality that many organizations that traffic in the language of human rights and international law have no interest in either — their real goal is the crippling of one particular state, and they have merely discovered an effective vocabulary to employ that gives their ugly cause a patina of nobility. To understand how the NGO movement works, follow the money.

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Why the Truth Constitutes “Incitement”

As Noah noted, the New Israel Fund controversy is laying bare just how warped the “human rights” community’s definition of human rights is. But it has also showcased two particularly Israeli variants of this disease: that freedom of information constitutes “incitement,” and that freedom of speech requires financing speech you oppose. The NIF’s Israeli president, former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, demonstrated both in response to the Im Tirtzu organization’s report that 92 percent of the anti-Israel information in the Goldstone Report came from Israeli groups funded by the NIF.

Neither Chazan nor her American parent organization has disputed Im Tirtzu’s findings: they do not deny that the NIF grantees supplied the material in question to a UN inquiry into last year’s war in Gaza, nor do they deny the Goldstone Commission’s use of it. On the contrary, Chazan said she was “ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy,” while the NIF’s American CEO, Daniel Sokatch, told the Forward that the grantees bolstered “Israel’s moral fiber and its values” by “tell[ing] the truth.”

If so, why was Chazan so upset over the revelation of the NIF’s contribution to this achievement that when the Knesset announced it wanted more information on the subject — a Knesset committee said it would establish a subcommittee to examine foreign funding of Israeli nonprofits, and one MK even advocated a parliamentary inquiry commission — she responded by accusing the Knesset of trying to “fan incitement”? Since when has the search for, and dissemination of, truthful information constituted incitement?

The answer relates to her other fallacy: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations [the grantees] say, but we support their right to say it.” Actually, so would most Israelis — but they wouldn’t give money to help them say it. And that is a crucial distinction. Freedom of speech means letting people or groups say what they please without fear of prosecution. It does not require anyone to help them do so by giving them money. The minute you donate to a group, you are not just “supporting its right” to speak; you are supporting the content of its speech. After all, the NIF doesn’t fund Im Tirtzu; does that mean it doesn’t support Im Tirtzu’s right to speak?

The problem for the NIF is that many donors might not support this particular content. Indeed, the Forward reported that when the NIF sought statements of support from other major Jewish groups, only three had complied as of February 3: Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Thus it is critical for the NIF and other groups with similar views to promote these twin canards: that freedom of information — i.e., shedding light on what they actually do — constitutes “incitement,” which is legally suppressible, and that freedom of speech requires funding even speech you oppose. For unless they can either suppress knowledge of just what speech they are enabling or convince donors that liberal values require funding such speech even if they oppose it, their own funding is liable to be endangered.

As Noah noted, the New Israel Fund controversy is laying bare just how warped the “human rights” community’s definition of human rights is. But it has also showcased two particularly Israeli variants of this disease: that freedom of information constitutes “incitement,” and that freedom of speech requires financing speech you oppose. The NIF’s Israeli president, former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, demonstrated both in response to the Im Tirtzu organization’s report that 92 percent of the anti-Israel information in the Goldstone Report came from Israeli groups funded by the NIF.

Neither Chazan nor her American parent organization has disputed Im Tirtzu’s findings: they do not deny that the NIF grantees supplied the material in question to a UN inquiry into last year’s war in Gaza, nor do they deny the Goldstone Commission’s use of it. On the contrary, Chazan said she was “ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy,” while the NIF’s American CEO, Daniel Sokatch, told the Forward that the grantees bolstered “Israel’s moral fiber and its values” by “tell[ing] the truth.”

If so, why was Chazan so upset over the revelation of the NIF’s contribution to this achievement that when the Knesset announced it wanted more information on the subject — a Knesset committee said it would establish a subcommittee to examine foreign funding of Israeli nonprofits, and one MK even advocated a parliamentary inquiry commission — she responded by accusing the Knesset of trying to “fan incitement”? Since when has the search for, and dissemination of, truthful information constituted incitement?

The answer relates to her other fallacy: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations [the grantees] say, but we support their right to say it.” Actually, so would most Israelis — but they wouldn’t give money to help them say it. And that is a crucial distinction. Freedom of speech means letting people or groups say what they please without fear of prosecution. It does not require anyone to help them do so by giving them money. The minute you donate to a group, you are not just “supporting its right” to speak; you are supporting the content of its speech. After all, the NIF doesn’t fund Im Tirtzu; does that mean it doesn’t support Im Tirtzu’s right to speak?

The problem for the NIF is that many donors might not support this particular content. Indeed, the Forward reported that when the NIF sought statements of support from other major Jewish groups, only three had complied as of February 3: Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Thus it is critical for the NIF and other groups with similar views to promote these twin canards: that freedom of information — i.e., shedding light on what they actually do — constitutes “incitement,” which is legally suppressible, and that freedom of speech requires funding even speech you oppose. For unless they can either suppress knowledge of just what speech they are enabling or convince donors that liberal values require funding such speech even if they oppose it, their own funding is liable to be endangered.

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You Know What’s a Human-Rights Violation?

Criticizing anti-Zionist NGOs, that’s what. In what is apparently not a parody, Human Rights Watch has issued a press release about the New Israel Fund controversy, apparently in the belief that making the association between the two groups explicit will help the NIF:

(New York, February 7, 2010) – The growing harshness of attacks by Israeli government officials on nongovernmental organizations poses a real threat to civil society in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today.

The most recent attacks center on the New Israel Fund (NIF). …

“What we’re seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. … “A clear pattern of official efforts to suppress voices critical of government policy is emerging.”

Note that HRW has done zero investigation into the clear pattern of official efforts to murder democracy activists by the Iranian regime. However, a thoroughly democratic debate in Israel about NGOs sends the group into hysterics about “threats to civil society.”

Aren’t there some actual dissenters in the Middle East who are actually being attacked who Human Rights Watch could pay attention to?

Criticizing anti-Zionist NGOs, that’s what. In what is apparently not a parody, Human Rights Watch has issued a press release about the New Israel Fund controversy, apparently in the belief that making the association between the two groups explicit will help the NIF:

(New York, February 7, 2010) – The growing harshness of attacks by Israeli government officials on nongovernmental organizations poses a real threat to civil society in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today.

The most recent attacks center on the New Israel Fund (NIF). …

“What we’re seeing in Israel is a greater official intolerance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. … “A clear pattern of official efforts to suppress voices critical of government policy is emerging.”

Note that HRW has done zero investigation into the clear pattern of official efforts to murder democracy activists by the Iranian regime. However, a thoroughly democratic debate in Israel about NGOs sends the group into hysterics about “threats to civil society.”

Aren’t there some actual dissenters in the Middle East who are actually being attacked who Human Rights Watch could pay attention to?

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Just Deserts for a Bully

The New Israel Fund, an umbrella philanthropic organization that donates to left-wing and anti-Zionist NGOs in Israel, found itself embroiled in controversy last week. Or I should say, the NIF is shocked, absolutely scandalized, to discover that a lot of people, previously unaware of the group’s activities, have a problem with an organization that brands itself pro-Israel but funds organizations that seek to destroy the Jewish state (sadly, this is no exaggeration).

The controversy was touched off when a Zionist youth group called Im Tirtzu — “if you will it” — published an advertisement in the Jerusalem Post exposing the NIF’s activities. The head of NIF, Naomi Chazan, also happens to write a column for the JPost. Her response to Im Tirtzu? She threatened to sue the JPost. So the JPost fired her.

The New Israel Fund, an umbrella philanthropic organization that donates to left-wing and anti-Zionist NGOs in Israel, found itself embroiled in controversy last week. Or I should say, the NIF is shocked, absolutely scandalized, to discover that a lot of people, previously unaware of the group’s activities, have a problem with an organization that brands itself pro-Israel but funds organizations that seek to destroy the Jewish state (sadly, this is no exaggeration).

The controversy was touched off when a Zionist youth group called Im Tirtzu — “if you will it” — published an advertisement in the Jerusalem Post exposing the NIF’s activities. The head of NIF, Naomi Chazan, also happens to write a column for the JPost. Her response to Im Tirtzu? She threatened to sue the JPost. So the JPost fired her.

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Exposing the New Israel Fund

The New Israel Fund finds itself embroiled in controversy, and rightfully so. The philanthropic group has given a great deal of moral support to the Goldstone Report, and even more financial support to the many NGO’s whose job is to manufacture the kind of allegations contained in the Report. Recently a Zionist group called Im Tirtzu released a report documenting the extent of NIF’s funding for what can only be called objectively anti-Israel groups.

This is consistent with NGO’s Monitor’s finding that “In 2008, NIF distributed over $20 million to over 300 NGOs in Israel. Approximately 20% goes to NGOs that engage in political activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including some that reject the legitimacy of Israel as Jewish democratic state, and are active in boycott and similar campaigns.”

And now the Ma’ariv columnist Ben-Dror Yemini has thrown down the gauntlet. Read his important piece, available here in English, below the jump. Read More

The New Israel Fund finds itself embroiled in controversy, and rightfully so. The philanthropic group has given a great deal of moral support to the Goldstone Report, and even more financial support to the many NGO’s whose job is to manufacture the kind of allegations contained in the Report. Recently a Zionist group called Im Tirtzu released a report documenting the extent of NIF’s funding for what can only be called objectively anti-Israel groups.

This is consistent with NGO’s Monitor’s finding that “In 2008, NIF distributed over $20 million to over 300 NGOs in Israel. Approximately 20% goes to NGOs that engage in political activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including some that reject the legitimacy of Israel as Jewish democratic state, and are active in boycott and similar campaigns.”

And now the Ma’ariv columnist Ben-Dror Yemini has thrown down the gauntlet. Read his important piece, available here in English, below the jump.

SLUSH FUND
by Ben-Dror Yemini, Ma’ariv, 2.2.10

The New Israel Fund is part of the global deception campaign. It does not deal with human rights but with denying one people’s right to self-determination.

The New Israel Fund is angry. It thinks that it is correct to spread false testimony about the State of Israel. It thinks that it is OK to participate in the demonization campaign of groups whose goal is to eliminate Israel. It thinks that it is OK to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission, even though it was established by the automatic majority of dark countries that controls the “UN Human Rights Council.” It thinks that it is OK for Israel to cooperate with the Commission even though no country in the free world supported its establishment. It is certainly legitimate, in a democratic country, to do all these things.

But there is something else that is also legitimate: Expose the truth about the Fund and the groups that falsely carry the description “human rights.” If most of the political groups that are supported by the Fund do not recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state – do not say human rights. Tell the truth: Denial of rights only for Jews. The Palestinians have the right to a state, a national state, of their own, just as the Croats, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks and other peoples do – but not the Jews.

For example, the New Israel Fund supports the Zochrot non-profit association, which openly aspires to eliminate the State of Israel via the realization of the “right of return.” Not that there is any such right and not that there has been even one precedent of a mass “return” after post-war population exchanges – but this does not bother the Fund. It always jumps at the slogan “human rights.”

None of this is to say that Israel is exempt from criticism. Among the hundreds of claims, there are those that have merit. But many sane people abhor the human rights bodies, not because they abhor human rights, on the contrary. It is because most sane people are fed up that human rights have become a weapon for dark forces.

The New Israel Fund has turned itself into yet another body, one among many in the world, that are party to global deception. There are a million and one attacks on human life and human rights in the world. Israel, as a state in the midst of conflict, makes fewer attacks than any other element. This has been verified. This is anchored in numbers. But it is Israel that absorbs most of the criticism. This is called demonization, delegitimization and obsession.

There is no defense of human rights here but rather an orchestrated campaign in the service of Iran and Hamas. This is not the Fund’s intention but this is the result. Things should be called by their name. Most of the groups supported by the Fund deal in the delegitimization of Israel. But the Fund rolls its eyes and whines:

What is wrong with human rights? There is nothing wrong. There is something wrong with those who clearly aspire to deny the Jews’ right to exist in the only place where they have sovereignty, in order to turn Israel into a “state of all its citizens,” in which the majority will be Hamas supporters. There is something wrong with those who want to perpetrate politicide on only one people in the world. There is something wrong with those who collaborate with dark forces and try to sell the lie that it is all about “human rights.”

How is it that so many people, mainly Jews, support the Fund? How is it they facilitate this systematic campaign that masquerades as humanitarian and is, in effect, demonic? They are not anti-Semites. They are people with good intentions. Their rhetoric deals with human rights and minorities. Jews are sensitive to this and good for them. Most are simply unaware. Most truly and innocently want Israel to be more enlightened and more progressive, and stricter about human life and human rights. But they do not know that the money goes to other goals.

Even Professor Naomi Chazan, who heads the Fund, does not hate Israel. But what has happened to countless bodies that deal with “the rights talk” has happened to them. In the end, they serve the agenda of Iran and Hamas.

Human rights groups can restore the confidence in themselves. They need to support human rights, not groups that deal in denying Israel’s right to exist. In the meantime, these groups, including the New Israel Fund, are the major enemy, not only of Israel but of the free world and human rights.

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Comedy from J Street

J Street is “gravely concerned about escalating threats to the character of Israel’s democracy” and is worried about “a perfect storm brewing that threatens the core of Israel’s democratic character.” The e-mail that contains these warnings is titled “Swiftboating Israel’s democracy.” Time to stockpile bottled water everyone, something serious is happening! It is this: an obscure Zionist youth group has criticized the leftist New Israel Fund for giving money to leftist NGOs.

This youth group is, of course, doing something fully consistent with democratic values — participating, albeit harshly, in a political debate.

There is a group, however, that indeed doesn’t have much regard for Israel’s democracy. Leading figures in this organization have frequently expressed their wish that the United States would do more to reverse the democratic choices of the Israeli electorate. It is named J Street. Here is Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director, in an unguarded moment:

There’s got to be some sort of intervention here where the U.S. says to Israel the time has come to finally do something. … And within Israel, the Israeli prime minister may have a tough time because of their domestic politics fulfilling their commitments. It’s going to be a lot easier if they say to their coalition partners and to the rest of the government, “I have to do this because the president of the United States is telling me to do it.”

Or take a recent Daniel Levy piece in Foreign Policy. Both the Israeli democracy and the PA are “deeply dysfunctional polities,” he writes, and the peace process is “too important for them and for America for it to be left to the mercy of the vicissitudes of their respective domestic politics.”

J Street is scandalized that some Americans have given money to the Zionist youth group, but J Street has never protested the millions of dollars that European governments and the UN spend on anti-Israel political groups NGOs that play such an intrusive role in Israel’s democracy.

It’s time for J Street to send out a press release condemning J Street’s efforts to subvert Israeli democracy.

J Street is “gravely concerned about escalating threats to the character of Israel’s democracy” and is worried about “a perfect storm brewing that threatens the core of Israel’s democratic character.” The e-mail that contains these warnings is titled “Swiftboating Israel’s democracy.” Time to stockpile bottled water everyone, something serious is happening! It is this: an obscure Zionist youth group has criticized the leftist New Israel Fund for giving money to leftist NGOs.

This youth group is, of course, doing something fully consistent with democratic values — participating, albeit harshly, in a political debate.

There is a group, however, that indeed doesn’t have much regard for Israel’s democracy. Leading figures in this organization have frequently expressed their wish that the United States would do more to reverse the democratic choices of the Israeli electorate. It is named J Street. Here is Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director, in an unguarded moment:

There’s got to be some sort of intervention here where the U.S. says to Israel the time has come to finally do something. … And within Israel, the Israeli prime minister may have a tough time because of their domestic politics fulfilling their commitments. It’s going to be a lot easier if they say to their coalition partners and to the rest of the government, “I have to do this because the president of the United States is telling me to do it.”

Or take a recent Daniel Levy piece in Foreign Policy. Both the Israeli democracy and the PA are “deeply dysfunctional polities,” he writes, and the peace process is “too important for them and for America for it to be left to the mercy of the vicissitudes of their respective domestic politics.”

J Street is scandalized that some Americans have given money to the Zionist youth group, but J Street has never protested the millions of dollars that European governments and the UN spend on anti-Israel political groups NGOs that play such an intrusive role in Israel’s democracy.

It’s time for J Street to send out a press release condemning J Street’s efforts to subvert Israeli democracy.

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Muzzling Free Speech

What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.

This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.

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What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.

This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.

According to its statement of purpose, “MuzzleWatch is dedicated to creating an open atmosphere for debate about U.S.-Israeli foreign policy by shining a light on incidents that involve pressure, intimidation, and outright censorship of critics of U.S.-Israeli policy.” Among the repressive incidents exposed on the website were a critique of Jimmy Carter by Alan Dershowitz, a jibe at George Soros by the New Republic, and a report on Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International by the group NGO Monitor*. Seen through this warped looking glass, criticism of these individuals or groups amounts to a threat to civil liberties.

Most blogs, like contentions, allow readers to post comments. MuzzleWatch did too—during its first four months of operation. Then it announced that it had “decided to change course and shut down the comments capability of this blog.” This explanation followed:

It seemed clear that there was a need for a space where people could freely debate challenging political issues related to Israel, Palestine, and U.S .foreign policy. Over time, however, the comment boards seem to have drawn in those who communicate in a more polarized fashion, and have chased away people seeking more thoughtful dialogue. . . . Clearly, this experiment in unfettered free speech hasn’t worked.

Now MuzzleWatch posts its opinions without any risk that a reader might attempt to “stifle” or “muzzle” it by expressing a different opinion.

*Originally misidentified.

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