The New Israel Fund is offering thousands of shekels to Jewish congregations that are willing to promote its values on the Biblical holiday of Shavuot. The controversial far-left group is offering up to 2,000 shekels “participation in costs” to congregations that teach NIF-style “social justice” or pluralism on the night of Shavuot, in place of traditional all-night Torah study events.
The campaign, published on the NIF website, made its way to the hareidi-religious news site Kikar Shabbat, which termed the campaign “hutzpa,” and accused the group of “exploiting the holy night... to push dangerous foreign views in synagogues in the land of Israel.”
Congregations are invited to submit suggestions for learning events promoting social justice or pluralism. If the event described merits NIF approval, the NIF will pay for publicity, speaker's fees and more.
The NIF currently funds the Reform movement in Israel, which it refers to as “progressive Judaism,” and the Religious Affairs Bureau of the Conservative movement. It also funds a handful of groups that seek to work within the religious Zionist community with the stated goal of “changing priorities” from issues such as building the land of Israel to NIF-approved social concerns, and the feminist group Kolech, a controversial organization that has urged a female boycott of the Rabbinate.
The NIF does not work within the hareidi public and has accused the community, which it terms “ultra orthodox", of “intransigence”, “dangerously threatening Israel's social cohesion", and wielding “inordinate power.”
NIF's History of Controversy
The fund, headed by former Meretz Knesset member Naomi Hazan, provides funding to dozens of Israeli organizations on the far left of the political spectrum, among them B'Tselem, Ir Amim, Adalah, and Yesh Din. The NIF itself is believed to receive much of its funding from Europe.
It has been accused of misrepresenting its activities to donors by portraying itself as a Zionist group that supports a Jewish Israel, while funding Arab-Israeli organizations such as Adalah, Ilam and Mossawa that seek to rid Israel of its Jewish identity in favor of a binational state.
The NIF faced widespread public criticism in early 2010 after the Zionist student group Im Tirzu revealed its heavy involvement in the creation of the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza. The Goldstone Report was based on testimony from Gaza Arabs and from a handful of extreme-left groups in Israel such as B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence – which in turn were funded by the NIF.
A Knesset subcommittee was founded to investigate the allegations.
NIF officials argued that Im Tirzu overstated their part in the report, as most of Goldstone's information came from Gaza Arabs, foreign organizations, Palestinian Authority organizations or the United Nations. In addition, the report was based in part on reports in the Israeli media, they said. However, they did not deny that most of the information voluntarily provided by Israeli sources did, in fact, come from NIF-linked groups.
Despite the controversy the NIF has continued its activities. Recent projects included a desert seminar, which was condemned by some participants as virulently anti-Israel, and an attempt to reach out to lawyers.
The group recently lost its long-term funding from the Ford Foundation, apparently due to the controversy surrounding its grantees' activities.