zionist council of victoria: not the most intelligent organisation

by tobybee

From The Age online, just a little while ago:

A Melbourne Jewish group has cancelled an invitation to an Israeli academic to speak in Melbourne because she heads an organisation that aided a United Nations report critical of the country’s conduct during last year’s war in Gaza.

Professor Naomi Chazan, who was a member of the Israeli parliament from 1992 to 2003, was to address a fund-raiser at the Beth Weizmann Community Centre next weekend.

But her invitation by the Union of Progressive Judaism was withdrawn after it emerged that the New Israel Fund, of which she is president, had given millions of dollars in grants to Israeli non-government organisations that had spoken to a UN investigation team, led by Justice Richard Goldstone. The Goldstone report said there was strong evidence that Israel had committed war crimes.

The President of the Zionist Council of Victoria, Dr Danny Lamm, told The Age that the invitation to Professor Chazan had been extended by an affiliate member of his organisation.

But he said her association with the New Israel Fund was “intolerable”.

“When I became aware of the New Israel Fund’s activities with regard to the Goldstone report, I withdrew our participation,” he said.

“Organisations that they have funded have done damage to Israel and as a consequence we don’t want to have anything to with the New Israel Fund.”

Let’s pretend for a moment that the accusations were true – that NIF was ‘behind’ the Goldstone Report. Why is that evidence of damaging Israel? Why must members of the ZIonist community here in Melbourne keep on insisting that the Goldstone Report is anti-Israel? It is increasingly frustrating that they do, rather than seeing the Report as an opportunity to make a damaged society better.

But, as it turns out, the accusations against Naomi Chazan and NIF are false. From the NIF website:

When a right-wing group with a destructive agenda and a lot of money taps into the Israeli public’s anger, the results are usually not pretty.

That’s what happened last week when a new organization made a big splash in Israel by accusing the New Israel Fund and its grantees of being behind the Goldstone Report. Timed to capitalize on the anger many Israelis feel about the Goldstone conclusions, and personalized with a particularly despicable attack on NIF President Naomi Chazan, the attack was the latest salvo in a coordinated attempt to de-legitimize civil society, repress the activities of the human rights community and weaken Israeli democracy. It comes as no surprise to discover that this new group is funded by the same abundant money that flows to extremist settlers’ organizations, including a sizable contribution from John Hagee’s “Christians United for Israel” – a group that once stated that “Hitler was carrying out God’s will.”

To our many friends and supporters who have already leapt to our defense, thank you. To those of you who know the New Israel Fund as the leading organization advancing democracy and equality in Israel, with a thirty-year record of serious accomplishment, we ask you to support us as we combat the increasingly authoritarian and extremist ideology taking hold in Israel.

This is the latest in a series of attacks on the social justice community in Israel.

Several weeks ago Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of longtime NIF grantee the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal advocacy arm of the Reform movement, was hauled into a police station, fingerprinted and interrogated for her prayer sessions at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. A week later, it was the arrest of Hagai El-Ad, the CEO of NIF’s flagship grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), during a peaceful demonstration in East Jerusalem that ACRI was monitoring to protect freedom of speech.

Now it is us.

A number of the civil and human rights organizations that are funded and supported by NIF have written challenging, thoughtful criticisms of how the Israeli military behaved during Gaza Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. The most recent attacks on NIF claim that if only we didn’t exist, if only we didn’t support these organizations in their work, Goldstone would not have had the evidence needed to come to the conclusions presented in his report.

The ugly language and personal threats against NIF and our President are all too reminiscent of the atmosphere of incitement and hatred that preceded the Rabin assassination. Sadly, these vicious attacks are being launched against the very organizations that protect Israel and its international reputation as a vibrant democracy.

The human rights organizations that examined and reported on human rights concerns during and after the Gaza operation were the first to declare that the Israeli government must launch an independent inquiry into the events of Gaza. They were acting out of a profound sense of patriotism and love of Israel. They are not monolithic and differ on many issues, including the conclusions of the Goldstone report.


NIF has been attacked before for our role as the lead funder of social justice and human rights in Israel. We continue to be a lightning rod for those who insist that Israel is always right. But as our board member and former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk said at last Sunday’s Town Hall Meeting, perhaps many years ago the existential threats to Israel’s continued existence warranted disregard for its flaws for the sake of survival, but no longer. Today, the question is not whether Israel survives, but what kind of Israel survives. As Professor Chazan said that day, the question is not whether Israel is always right or always wrong but what we will do to solve the very real problems Israel has.

NIF stands for the efforts of thousands of Israelis and Diaspora Jews who are dedicated to working towards the Israel they know to be possible; one which upholds the dignity of all of its people.

You can read more about the recent smear campaign here, more about the New Israel Fund here, can see the kinda antisemitic poster made about Naomi Chazan here, read the statement from the Union of Progressive Judaism here (and their statement makes it seem as though it was a mutual decision between them and Chazan to cancel her speaking tour, although Lamm still holds that he wouldn’t support her speaking), and can use this link to find the email address for Dr Danny Lamm, and write him a letter telling him how embarrassed you are by his statement.