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Not Everybody Loves a Parade

Marching for and against Israel.

Jun 2, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 36 • By KATE HAVARD
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They point out that the New Israel Fund was until recently a major funder of groups that were explicitly and proudly leaders of the BDS movement. Until 2011, the NIF backed a group called Coalition of Women for Peace. This organization pioneered an online database that was crucial to the development of the BDS movement. After NIF’s funding was exposed, the NIF came under enormous pressure to cut them off. But by that time, the Coalition of Women for Peace was already up and running and enjoying funding from other sources.

The NIF “do some very good charitable and social work,” Allen says, “but a percentage of what they do still goes to very bad things.”

In an April press release, NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research organization run by Gerald Steinberg, reported that “while about 80 percent of NIF’s budget goes to internal Israeli social and economic issues, the rest is problematic. .  .  . With the other 20 percent, the NIF has made many mistakes, providing legitimacy and funding for BDS campaigns.”

“Funny, isn’t it?” says Paiss. “The 20 percent that they are most concerned about funding are the ones who are most critical of the Israeli government’s policy.”

According to NGO Monitor, as recently as 2012, the NIF still funded Adalah ($356,911), which calls for a new Israeli constitution that would eliminate the right of Jews to immigrate, effectively ending the country as a Jewish refuge and Jewish state.

The New Israel Fund says that Adalah’s position on the status of Israel is irrelevant. “It would be ridiculous to expect Arab groups to be Zionist,” Paiss says. “We do not support groups who are working to change the nature of Israel as a Jewish democratic state,” she says. “That’s not what Adalah does. Adalah’s job is to litigate cases for Arab civil rights. If they changed their job, their main purpose, we would no longer fund them.”

Another group backed by the New Israel Fund is B’Tselem, whose U.S. branch marched in the Celebrate Israel parade last year. B’Tselem is perhaps best known as the group that helped produce the Goldstone Report, a 2009 document released by the U.N. that accused Israel of war crimes and intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza. B’Tselem was the single most frequently cited source in the report. Congress overwhelmingly condemned it, and in 2011, Richard Goldstone himself retracted its claim about civilians.

B’Tselem says it doesn’t support BDS but has been happy to take money from BDS groups in the past. And the kind of work B’Tselem produces—overwrought accusations in which virtually every Israeli security effort is declared a war crime or a human rights abuse—gives aid and comfort to the BDS movement, which attacks Israel’s legitimacy with the same accusations.

Allen’s group is not alone. He has received support from a number of other nonprofits, including the Zionist Organization of America, Americans for a Safe Israel, and the Emergency Committee for Israel. Members of the Israeli Knesset, among them Yariv Levin, the equivalent of Israel’s speaker of the House, wrote a letter of support for the protest. 

Criticism of Allen’s group veers wildly, from eye rolls and assertions that he is inconsequential to claims that JCC Watch will stir up so much trouble that the parade organizers will take their floats and go home, and Allen will have ruined the day for everyone.

The truth is, Allen, JCC Watch, and the parade’s critics are neither inconsequential nor terribly powerful. While they are unlikely to get everything they want this year, there are signs that JCC Watch is laying the groundwork for a policy change next year.

An unnamed Israeli government official told the Jerusalem Post that, “due to the ongoing controversy that has now erupted, the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry will review its funding of the parade for future years, [although] not this year.”

In the meantime, B’Tselem seems to have quietly dropped out of the parade. When asked about JCC Watch by the Jersusalem Post, B’Tselem spokesman Sarit Michaeli was indignant, and said that her organization hadn’t even signed up to be in the parade.

“I have no idea why our name keeps getting dragged into this particular row, aside from the fact that the people behind this campaign haven’t bothered to look into the actual list of groups joining,” she says. B’Tselem was “dragged in” to the argument because they marched last year, proudly carrying B’Tselem signs and banners.

And indeed, there’s no indication that they’ve signed up to march in 2014. Were they unwilling to sign the pledge? Perhaps they just didn’t feel like Celebrating Israel this year? It is unclear. Multiple calls to B’Tselem-USA were not returned.

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