The Truth About the New Israel Fund

The Truth About the New Israel Fund

From the NIF Atlanta Council

Steve Berman, a member of the Atlanta Council of the New Israel Fund, asks a question of NIF's Libby Lenkinski during a NIF event at Congregation Shearith Israel on June 8. (photo by Benjamin Kweskin)
Steve Berman, a member of the Atlanta Council of the New Israel Fund, asks a question of NIF’s Libby Lenkinski during a NIF event at Congregation Shearith Israel on June 8. (photo by Benjamin Kweskin)

In George Birnbaum, Hank Sheinkopf and Ronn Torossian’s fictitious column “Unmasking the New Israel Fund” (June 12), the trio claims to benevolently “uncover the truth” about the New Israel Fund. In reality, their only aim is to further distort the truth about NIF.

While each and every one of the false charges made in their article merits refutation, the most egregious and outrageous is that NIF is “an organization dedicated to and supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

We believe that the Jewish community here in Atlanta is too smart to fall for these dirty tricks, and we’d like to take a moment to demonstrate just how bald-faced this charge is. Allow us to present three key, undeniable facts:

  • Not only does NIF vocally oppose the BDS movement, but it also refuses to fund organizations that have BDS programs. This is not just a paper policy. There was one instance (out of the more than 1,000 organizations that NIF has funded over the years) of a group funded by NIF that supported BDS. NIF cut off the group’s funding.
  • NIF actively works to defeat boycotts of Israel. Just last month, as FIFA was preparing to debate a proposal to ban Israel from international competitions, NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel (wife of a former Israeli consul general to the Southeast, Alon Liel) wrote a letter to the president of FIFA urging that body not to expel Israel from worldwide soccer.
  • Investment is the opposite of divestment: NIF invests upward of $20 million in Israel every year. Since its founding over 35 years ago, NIF has funded over 1,000 different organizations that advocate for the values that we in the Jewish community here hold so dear: democracy, equality, religious freedom and social justice. The resources collected from NIF donors overseas go toward empowering Israelis on the front lines of the struggle to make Israel a more equal and democratic society.

The public defamation exposed here does not end with NIF. Birnbaum, Sheinkopf and Torossian are part of a tiny but vocal movement that, in the interest of promoting an extreme-right-wing agenda, are quick to smear respected organizations and individuals in the American Jewish community.

Today they are coming after NIF because they object to NIF’s liberal values. They hate NIF’s opposition to the settlement enterprise in the territories and NIF’s belief that a two-state solution is essential if Israel is to remain both a Jewish and a democratic state.

Furthermore, their attacks erode the standards of respectful debate, which have always been the hallmark of the American Jewish community. And by defining their own boundaries for what it means to be pro-Israel based on their own worldview, the trio erodes our community’s ability to defeat the BDS movement.

After all, it is NIF’s progressive bona fides that make it among the very best defenders of Israel against the BDS movement. As Israeli journalist Ari Shavit (most recently in Atlanta in support of a Birthright fundraiser) wrote this month concerning left-leaning college students who may be attracted to BDS:

“Trying to sell them the Gush Emunim (settler) agenda won’t work. Only a liberal Zionist message can foment change. Only liberal Zionists can generate enthusiasm and provide inspiration. Only Israelis who believe in the two-state solution can confront those Israel-haters who believe in exactly what the right believes in — one state.”

It is shameful that just a few weeks ago Mr. Birnbaum utilized a speaking platform provided to him by a venerable organization like Israel Bonds to attack NIF. And it is tragic that he and his colleagues would rather spend their time and energy pushing people out of our community than having constructive conversations to build broader support for the Jewish state.

It is up to us — up to all of us — to reject this approach.

This column represents the consensus view of the Atlanta Council of the New Israel Fund, chaired by Shai Robkin. In addition to Robkin, the following council members specifically signed off on this piece: Steve Berman, Heidi Einhorn, Lois Frank, Leah Fuhr, Robin Kramarow, Charles Miller, David Minkin, Glenda Minkin and Judy Lipshutz.

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