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Financing the Flames

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Confronting the New Israel Fund

November 23rd 2013

Edwin Black

At a time of ceaseless budget crises, it may astound many that American taxpayers are deploying their precious dollars not to pay for peace in Israel, but to achieve the exact opposite: confrontation.

Each year, American aid, taxpayer subsidies of 501(c)(3) organizations, and other financial programs richly support political confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis, vocal critics say. Tax experts estimate that for every one million dollars in donations received by a 501(c)(3), US taxpayers must subsidize approximately $440,000.

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Tax-exempt charitable organizations are supposed to be just that: charitable. But prominent Israeli critics claim that highly politicized American charitable organizations, including several operated by some of America’s most prominent Jewish personalities, are actually working hard to destabilize the Israel Defense Forces and erase Israel’s identity as a Jewish State. Rather than engaging in charitable programs, outspoken critics say, these charitable groups are focused on massive political lobbying and fomenting internal political upheaval that make peace between Arab and Jew seemingly impossible. Not a few of these critics point to the prestigious New Israel Fund (NIF) as the chief culprit.

NIF grants steer millions of US dollars to scores of confrontation-oriented Israeli NGOs. Among the controversial NGOs is one called B’Tselem, which circulates video cameras to Arab villages that are hotbeds for confrontation. Israeli military officials assure that they rely upon B'Tselem’s help to document IDF infractions. But many critics in the ranks charge the cameras are calculated to capture the scene after soldiers are taunted into finally reacting.

One such critic is Colonel Benny Yanay, who represents Consensus, an organization of several hundred IDF officers. "The New Israel Fund,” insists Yanay, “acts against Israel—against the soldiers of our country. It is important to me that people recognize the New Israel Fund for what it is. It is supported by foreign governments and organizations so that Israeli soldiers will be weakened." Yanay adds, "Their budget is more than anything we have—so it is not a fair fight. We are not a political organization. They are political."

Adalah, another Israeli NGO, brags that it has devoted itself to getting Israelis prosecuted for war crimes. Among its efforts was the now-recanted Goldstone Report. On its website, Adalah confirms: “The Goldstone Mission report is a watershed … [it] contains thirty-five direct references to Adalah on ten separate legal cases and mentions many other Gaza cases handled by Adalah without specifically citing the organization.” The organization’s website add, “The Goldstone Mission dedicated an entire chapter … relying extensively on Adalah’s report.”

According to a spreadsheet prepared by NIF officials for this investigation, in 2011, Adalah received $84,000 in core grants — NIF’s own grant money — plus $321,275 in donor-advised (DA) grants, that is, those grants wherein third parties channeled tax-deductible money through NIF for directed purposes. In 2011, B’Tselem received $158,053 in donor-advised funds as part of the NIF’s total support. The next reporting year, 2012, that amount rose to $255,477. NIF’s US donations are subsidized by American taxpayers.

Are the allegations against the NIF true? Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Yoni Chetboun says “yes,” and flatly asserts, “The main goal of the NIF is to undermine the Israeli Army, by knowingly financing left-wing Israeli groups that try to get young Israeli soldiers prosecuted for war crimes. Knesset member Yariv Levin agrees, “The NIF’s lobbying and its funding activities are all part of a campaign to destabilize the IDF. They want to ruin the good name of the IDF, making it more possible to take soldiers to international courts.” MK Faina Kershenbaum also agreed, stating, “Yes, the NIF is trying to destabilize and delegitimize the army. In my opinion, the goal of the NIF and all its grantee organizations is to change the priorities of the Israeli nation and people.”

The New Israel Fund has heard these allegations many times before, and forcefully rejects them. NIF vice president Naomi Paiss concedes, “We are not about soup kitchens. We are about social change.” But Paiss claims the critics are just right-wing political opponents. Chetboun, Levin, and Kershenbaum are indeed considered from the political right. But they and others say this rebuttal only proves their point, the NIF is not a charitable entity but actually a wealthy political organization, empowered by huge American tax subsidies bestowed upon its American donors—many of whom may not understand the true impact of their contributions. Chetboun and others are quick to credit the NIF for its many helpful activities, such as those which uplift battered women and the disadvantaged. But they also complain that the NIF constitutes the biggest and most powerful political lobbyist in the Knesset.

Not infrequently, critics complain, the NIF, which asserts its staunch commitment to democratic institutions, ironically undermines Israel’s democracy by trying to convince Knesset members to not vote in their own parliament. On the NIF website, one NIF lobbyist confirmed that efforts were made to have some MKs actually stay away from the Knesset during crucial votes. “Our goal,” she writes, “was to recruit the entire Opposition to be present for the vote, and ensure that as many government Coalition members as possible would either vote against the measure or not show up. We asked that all of our activists begin networking with their various contacts … If their contact was someone who did not feel comfortable voting against the measure, then to ask them to at least absent themselves from the vote.”

It was not clear how dissuading an open Knesset vote by all members was consistent with democratic values. But in one case in which NIF tactics were to be reined in by new legislation, the NIF was able to use the “no vote” tactic to help defeat the measure. The lobbyist wrote, “In the end, we met our goal. Most of the opposition MKs showed up for the vote and many of the Coalition MKs did not. And in the end, the ‘inquiry’ failed by a vote of 57 to 28.” Hence, the NIF confirms that it was able to influence not only the Knesset tally but even who voted.

American policy is to support peace and reconciliation through millions of annual taxpayer dollars. But many in Israel believe the opposite is occurring. Instead, American money is too often being misused by scores of NGOs to finance the flames.

Edwin Black is the award-winning author of the international bestseller IBM and the Holocaust. This article is drawn from his just-released newsbook, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel.

Copyright 2013 Edwin Black
All Rights Reserved


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