Kicking the Fund

Categories: Letters From Leadership

By Nahum Barnea, Yediot Ahronot

This article was originally published in Yediot Ahronot in Israel. Nahum Barnea is one of Israel’s leading political correspondents.

It was a difficult week in the life of Prof. Naomi Chazan, a former Meretz MK and president of the New Israel Fund (NIF). It started on Friday, in a report published by a right wing NGO in Ben Caspit’s column in Maariv. The report asserted that 92 percent of the quotes hostile to Israel in the Goldstone report were provided by Israeli NGOs, most of which are supported by the NIF. The report brought right wing demonstrators to Chazan’s house, accusing her of treason. She was in New York, at a conference of the fund’s board of directors. The atmosphere was hysterical. They feared that donors would jump ship. And then the news from Australia arrived: The Reform Movement in Australia, which invited Chazan for a lecture tour in Sydney and Melbourne, canceled its invitation. The timing is not right, the Australian Jews explained.

All this was overshadowed by the initiative in the Knesset. MK Otniel Schneller, who is still in Kadima, placed a proposal on the Knesset agenda to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the fund’s actions. The proposal elicited interesting reactions. Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) took the podium to pour cold water on the proposal. “Such a thing has not happened,” Eitan said. “Parliamentary commissions of inquiry are established on non-political issues, such as corruption in soccer or water prices. It is impossible for the (right wing) majority in the Knesset to investigate the minority.” Ruby Rivlin and Benny Begin (Likud) ruled out Schneller’s proposal for similar reasons.

Rivlin, Begin and Eitan, staunch right wingers, can afford to be democrats: No one will question their patriotism. Members of Kadima and the Labor Party, however, went both ways. Tzipi Livni did not intervene. If the investigation is general, and not against a particular organization, she would not be shocked, she said.

It was one of those days when the hooligans of the Knesset came to light. Former prison commissioner Arie Bibi, who is currently a Kadima MK, Danny Danon (Likud) and others, used words like “treason” and “fifth column.” These are the words they know.

The attack on the fund greatly troubled the American Jewish establishment. An investigation in Israel could harm other Jewish organizations. Questions will be raised about political involvement in a foreign country, dual loyalty and tax offenses. Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman, who is not associated with the NIF, said to The Jewish Week that the accusations of the right wing NGO were impudent. “It’s almost undemocratic,” Foxman said to me over the phone yesterday.

In the afternoon, Rivlin received a phone call from a leader of one of the Jewish organizations. “Have you gone mad?” the man lashed out at Rivlin. “You’re going to investigate us for funds we send to you? You’re out of your minds.”

“I can’t stop it,” Rivlin said to him. “It’s not within my authority.” He called Netanyahu and reported to him about the call from New York. Netanyahu turned to Schneller and convinced him to remove the proposal from the agenda. Schneller says that he promised him to recruit the entire coalition to support the proposal, if the discussion of it would be postponed to next week. Netanyahu mentioned Ehud Barak among the people who were pressuring him to support the establishment of the committee. Barak wants to prove that he is defending the IDF against its defamers (Barak denies this. On the contrary, his spokesman says. True, Barak doesn’t like the attacks on the IDF, but he thinks that the committee is unnecessary).

Schneller withdrew the proposal. A few hours later, he asked Rivlin to raise it again. “Now it is within my authority,” Rivlin said, and refused.

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