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The Only Democracy? » On The Ground Reports » New Israel Fund issues the guidelines: grantees must support Jewish self-determination

New Israel Fund issues the guidelines: grantees must support Jewish self-determination

By Jesse Bacon

We reported on Richard Silverstein’s initial fears of New Israel Fund’s new guidelines, that they would bar funding to those who opposed Israel as a Jewish state. Then it looked like compromise language was in the works. Finally, the guidelines are out, and they call instead for grantees to support Jewish self-determination within the state of Israel.

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of New Israel Fund

The JTA reports,

Groups that work to “deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel” will not be eligible for New Israel Fund moneys.

In new guidelines issued to JTA on Thursday, the progressive pro-Israel olutfit, which has come under fire for funding groups that are sharply critical of Israel and that have promoted a binational state instead of a Jewish one, reiterated its well known principles upholding minority rights and promoting equal rights for all.

The language about Israel’s Jewish character was new, but consistent with NIF’s objectives, which derive from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, NIF director Daniel Sokatch told JTA.

Pressed, he said the language would prohibit proposals for a binational constitution of the kind that two NIF grantees submitted several years ago.

“If we had an organization that made part of its project, part of its mission an effort to really genuinely organize on behalf of creating a constitution that denied Israel as a sovereign vehicle for self-determination for the Jewish people, a Jewish homeland, if that became the focus of one of our organizations, we would not support that organization,” he said.

He added, however, that NIF would not deny funds to grantees that had philosophical disagreements. The difference, he suggested, was in a grantee’s activism, not in the views of its directors.

Silverstein is highly displeased with the compromise language, and Sokatch’s statement that he would not support a group proposing a binational constitution,

Sokatch is referring to Adalah’s Democratic Constitution, a proposal for a new Israeli constitution that would guarantee equal rights for Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens.  The Constitution is NOT a proposal for a binational state.  In fact, the document itself calls for a “multicultural and bilingual” state, not a binational one.  Rather, it is a proposal for a unitary state in which the rights of all ethnic groups are respected and equal.

This is the same Palestinian political activism which caused Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin to announce that he would treat such Palestinian nationalism as akin to undermining the state.  Further he announced that whether political activity on behalf of the project was legal or not, he would treat it as criminal–and he has been true to his word.

So, in effect, NIF has been cowed and bowed to the will of the state’s security apparatus and defined Palestinian nationalism as unworthy of its financial support.

It is unclear to me from Sokatch’s statement what the actual financial implication would be: if they are talking about any existing grantees or some hypothetical future one. It seems that there is no inherent conflict between supporting self-determination for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian equality, and I hope that New Israel Fund agrees. I will attempt to get more clarification.

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JESSE BACON (Philadelphia) is a freelance activist and father. He has a Masters in teaching from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is an observant progressive Jew, and is trying to be a good ally for Palestinians and all dispossessed peoples, while staying true to the best traditions in Judaism. He visited Israel and Palestine in 1996, 2001, and 2002. He served for three years on the local steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, and one year on the board of Pursue the Peace in Seattle. Read his posts here.

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