Editor’s Notebook: Conflicting Truths on NIF

Editor’s Notebook: Conflicting Truths on NIF

By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Three little words have become the most divisive phrase to hit Jewish Atlanta since “Charles Stanley.”

New Israel Fund.

NIF alternately is portrayed as one of the brightest lights among nonprofit organizations devoted to pushing Israel to achieve its ideals and be a light unto the nations and as one of the greatest Jewish threats to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state.

The frustrating reality for the majority of us — those who may have heard of NIF and the opposition to it, such as efforts to prevent its participation in New York City’s Israel Day Parade — is that it’s hard to filter the facts from the spin and the name-calling and the accusations on both sides. It’s even harder to reconcile the angry back and forth with the good intentions and devotion to Israel of people who are coming to verbal blows over NIF.

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

The people I know who are involved with NIF in Atlanta believe in an Israel that is democratic and is a haven for the Jewish people. Like NIF itself, they oppose boycotts of Israel and believe that Israel ultimately can live in peace only as part of a two-state solution.

It’s worth noting that the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta just made a grant to NIF for its work with Ethiopian-Israeli women. That $2,600 grant represents the consensus of more than 80 women committed to the Jewish community and Israel.

At the same time, it’s hard to ignore that NIF has supported groups that many Atlanta Jews would oppose. Some of those organizations, while not backing general boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, do back BDS against Israelis in the West Bank. Any legitimacy given to BDS, no matter how limited, strengthens the global movement to delegitimize Israel.

In addition, while NIF might give money to some organizations to help hold Israel to its ideals, the criticisms from those groups fuel anti-Israel propaganda. As NGO Monitor reported, the new U.N. Human Rights Council report critical of Israel’s conduct during last summer’s Gaza war frequently cited groups funded by NIF, such as B’Tselem, Hamoked, Breaking the Silence and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

And still the argument goes on.

Today’s issue includes the final columns we will print about NIF for the near future. My decision to institute a cooling-off period arguably favors the anti-NIF side because it gets the temporary last word — George Birnbaum’s column responds to the adjoining column from the Atlanta NIF Council — and because this is the second anti-NIF column. On the other hand, we did run two news articles in which NIF’s Libby Lenkinski was able to explain and defend NIF before we ran any NIF-related opinion pieces.

Beyond any disputes about fairness, however, we couldn’t keep going back and forth in print. We were rapidly approaching, if we hadn’t reached, the point where the claims and counterclaims were losing any impact on our readers.

The print moratorium is not meant to stifle debate or produce a winner. As I discussed in this space a week ago, good Jewish arguments don’t end and don’t have winners and losers. But the process requires an acceptance of good intentions on both sides, and the latest columns reflect no such mutual respect.

I ask everyone concerned about NIF to let the argument rest through our Fourth of July holiday. The week of July 13, the debate may resume online (I hope on a revamped AJT website), where the responses are quicker and any errors or misleading comments can be addressed immediately. And we offer to serve as the host for a more formal debate, whether real or virtual, to help our community understand the issues surrounding NIF.

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