The New Israel Fund, Dipping Its Toe Into the BDS Swamp (Updated)

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Well, this is certainly disconcerting: The New Israel Fund, a left-leaning organization I admire (it funds all sorts of civil liberties groups in Israel), states that, on the one hand, the anti-Israel boycott movement (the BDS movement, for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)  is pursuing a counterproductive and inflammatory strategy, but on the other, it will continue to fund groups that support BDS, so long as they don't support BDS too much. Here are the weasel words, so you can judge NIF's position for yourself:

NIF supports an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories as a central tenet of the strategic framework in which we operate.  The tactics known as 'boycott, divestment and sanctions' (BDS) are designed to pressure Israel to end the occupation, but NIF believes these tactics to be unproductive, inflammatory and ineffective because of the difficulties in defining an approach that is not overly broad, does not delegitimize Israel and will achieve the long-term goal.

Although we will continue to communicate publicly and privately to our allies and grantees that NIF does not support BDS as a strategy or tactic, we will not reduce or eliminate our funding for grantees that differ with us on a tactical matter. NIF will not fund BDS activities nor support organizations for which BDS is a substantial element of their activities, but will support organizations that conform to our grant requirements if their support for BDS is incidental or subsidiary to their significant programs.

The way I read this, the NIF does not support the attempt by anti-Israel activists to turn the world's only Jewish country into a pariah state, and Jews into a target -- once again -- of a broad-based economic boycott. Except when it does, a little. It would seem that if the New Israel Fund believes BDS to be immoral, then it would defund grantees that support BDS, even incidentally.  This is one of those bright-line issues, and if NIF wants to get on the wrong side of that line, it should not call itself a pro-Israel organization. 

UPDATE: This is a statement sent to me by the p.r. folks at the New Israel Fund:

Since the policy that Mr. Goldberg quotes was written, we at the New Israel Fund have made clear, not once but many times, that we do not support global BDS nor will we support organizations with BDS programs.  The original policy left room for the discretion we require as funders, the kind of discretion that allows us to engage in dialogue with an important organization that signs one letter supporting divestment rather than summarily dismissing them.

Our stance is clear, and we've recently taken the trouble to debate it in public (http://zeek.forward.com/articles/117036/). We expect to further sharpen our official opposition to global BDS, while acknowledging that many Israelis are developing non-violent means of protesting the injustice of the ongoing occupation by refusing to buy products and services produced in settlements, and that this activity is consistent with our opposition to the occupation . Since being "pro-Israel" encompasses a wide range of ideas and views, we would hope Mr. Goldberg would agree that our careful and nuanced approach is entirely consistent with our wholehearted "pro-Israel" organizational values.

Mr. Goldberg thinks the New Israel Fund should not fund any organization that supports the BDS movement, which is not primarily interested in removing Jewish settlements from the West Bank (a worthy cause, IMHO) but in removing Israel from the Middle East. The New Israel Fund policy I quote above is from the group's website, and is still there as I write this.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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