Daily Israel Report

Activist Describes New Israel Fund Desert Seminar from Hell

Social activist Shlomit thought she was going on an empowering NIF seminar but has had trouble sleeping since her harrowing experience.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 7/21/2010, 7:22 PM / Last Update: 7/21/2010, 7:15 PM

Flash 90

A new chapter in the New Israel Fund controversy was written this week, as a left-of-center activist related her harrowing experience in an NIF seminar that brought her to tears. The NIF, which purports to be a pro-Israel fund, has been under fire since a damning report published in February by a Zionist student group exposed its aid to groups that slandered the IDF following the 'Cast Lead' Gaza counter-terror operation.

The letter from the activist to NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch was first published in Hebrew by journalist Ben-Dror Yemini in his blog on the Maariv-NRG website, and later translated into English.

The activist, who identified herself by the pseudonym Shlomit, told a story that appeared to corroborate Im Tirtzu's depiction of the NIF as a sinister radical group that hides behind a facade of pro-Israel Zionist morality.

Loyal to the Fund
Shlomit, 36 and a mother of three, described herself as “religious left-wing” and said she voted for dovish-religious Meimad in the last elections. A former spokesperson for an organization promoting women’s rights, she is currently employed in an organization that helps the disabled.

She described herself as “very connected” to Shatil, an organization that operates under the auspices of the New Israel Fund, mentoring NIF-supported groups and helping them apply for funding from other sources. “Within my professional framework, I have always been aided and assisted by the services of 'Shatil' from the outset,” she explained.

“The report of the 'Im Tirzu' movement created somewhat of a shockwave amongst me and my colleagues,” Shlomit elaborated. “On the one hand, we thought that if there was an element of truth in it then the Fund should do some soul-searching and we assumed they would. However, we were not prepared to cast aspersions on our loyalty to the Fund and to Shatil.”

Elated and grateful
She was offered a scholarship for “a week in the desert along with fellow activists, with professional guidance from America,” and saw it as “an opportunity for empowerment and growth.”

Other participants hailed from Amnesty International, Sikkuy (The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel), AJEEC (Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation), Neve Shalom, Itach (Women Lawyers for Social Justice), Moussawa (Advocacy for Arab Citizens in Israel) and additional groups.

Feeling “so elated and grateful that they were willing to invest in me in such a way,” she accepted.

"That turned out to be a mistake,” she wrote Sokatch.

The nightmare
“It has now been two weeks since the program ended and I am still struggling to get back into routine both at home and at work. The level of the shake-up I experienced was so powerful that it led me to write this letter especially to you. I found myself in the desert under laboratory conditions, cut off from the world, cut off from Internet, with Palestinian and Jewish human rights activists who negated the State of Israel's existence. With people who want to annihilate the State without ruling out violent means, who believe that the State of Israel was born out of sin and who apologize for its existence, who loathe Israel and its symbols, who justify harming Israel, its soldiers and all its institutions, who devote their lives and efforts towards turning Israel into a bi or multi-national country. In fact the above is inaccurate. These people are fighting for one nationality alone – Palestinian. These same people oppose communal or civil national service for Arabs within the State. They also equate Israel's actions with those of Nazi Germany.”

“It was hard to hear the constant denouncing and loathing of the existence of the IDF, when back home, all of my friends irrespective of their political views, had left their families and small children at home (and will continue to do so) to join fellow soldiers in the protection of Israel from missiles that were being fired on its citizens. It was also hard to hear the hatred towards a country that to me represented one of the biggest miracles and acts of justice that mankind has ever known. I could not tolerate being in an atmosphere where my Jewish identity was being paralyzed in a way that I had never felt before in my life."

She decided to express her feelings to the tutors. "I then turned to them and with tears in my eyes and tried to explain the hurt that I was feeling.”

"'I love my country,' I cried. 'I don't always agree with everything that my government decides, but I love the country and its symbols. I have devoted my life to building it. Every social activity I have ever undertaken has been motivated by Zionism especially for equal rights and developing amenities for Arab society. Over here I wouldn't dare exclaim out aloud that that I have a strong Jewish identity and that I am a proud Jew and Zionist. This was how life was in the 1930s just like my late grandmother used to describe it'.

A plea to the NIF
In an impassioned plea to Sokatch, she asked: “Do the supporters of the Fund have any idea that the numerous organizations benefiting from its support and counsel are putting all their effort into negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? Is the Fund itself openly working towards removing the 'Jewishness' from the State? Is the Fund trying to turn Israel into a 'country for all her inhabitants' [i.e. Israeli euphemism for not being a Jewish state, ed.] alongside a Palestinian state? Is the Fund backing the fact that the aim of the Palestinian society sector within 'Shatil' is to strengthen the expression of the Palestinian nation, and that on the Jewish side of the spectrum the aim is to strengthen freedom of religion and not Jewish identity and the national expression of the Jews in their homeland?”

The New Israel Fund's response, as quoted by Yemini, said that the Rockwood Program which Shlomit participated in is based on pluralistic and open dialogue. The 19 other participants in the seminar did not hear any of the things Shlomit quoted, the Fund said, and the program was not focused on political matters at all. “We regret that Shlomit came back with a negative feeling after the program, because all of the other participants who were there came back from the program with an empowering positive impression.”  

Shlomit, it should be noted, said that she was shaken up by the general tone of the program, and not necessarily by specific things said by tutors or participants. “Since I have been home, I have not been able to sleep well,” she wrote. “I have been playing this week over and over in my mind trying to find what hurt me and what shocked me. I have to say that this was an excellent program with a wonderful content. The overall mood amongst the participants was one of accepting and empowering. Were it not for the presence of politics, we all would have had so much in common. But the radical left was so present in the room that it seemed obvious that everyone was speaking with one voice.”

'Victims of the NIF'
Ronen Shoval, chairman of Im Tirtzu, told Israel National News in response: "Shlomit, like many other good people, fell victim to the activities of the New Israel Fund, which hides under a sheep's skin but is in fact a wolf with one purpose: to turn Israel from a Jewish state to 'a state of all its citizens [euphemism for non Jewish state, as above, ed.].' Any decent and Zionist person must cease cooperation with the New Israel Fund.”