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New Israel Fund (NIF) and its guest speaker former Haaretz Editor David Landau have combined to create communal controversy among Australia's Jewish population over the past two weeks.
A recently formed group Australians For A Secure Israel (AFASI) first raised alam bells when its President - Danny Ginges - wrote to Australia's only dedicated on-line newspaper J-Wire to alert readers to beware of NIF's fundraising appeal which is meant to compete with and denigrate Israel's JNF:
"One of NIF Australia’s goals for 2011/12 is raising funds for The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), to which Australians are being asked to contribute $22,000. This NIF grantee is following the footsteps of other NIF grantees by taking issue with Israel and its Zionist agenda, specifically lambasting the JNF to multiple UN committees whose goals seem to be the delegitimisation and censure of Israel. One only has to look at the NCF website to see the prominent position given to ‘UN & Reports’. In those reports you will find statements that virulently attack the JNF and its activities being carried out legally in the Negev."
Landau's visit to Australia took place in the same week 650 people had attended a JNFgala fund raising function addressed by former Jerusalem Post Editor David Horowitz. The guests also watched a videotaped message from Israel's President Shimon Peres in which he praised the work of JNF stating:
"You changed the colour of our face. From pink and brown, the colour of the desert, Israel became green, the colour of the garden and became a wonder in the eyes of the whole world and changed this history of our people. You planted trees You built centres of water,. you carried out other enterprises which are unique in our history. You can be proud historically We are the smallest country which reached highest degree of hope and peace. Each of you has a share in this enterprise of overcoming the call of desert and introducing the call of hope. The nature of achievements…a gift for prosperity. Thank you for what you did. Please continue the same way. Penny to penny, person to person, day to day and let’s show both our fathers and our children that the fate of our people and the fate of our country is in their hands. God bless you"
Landau's well publicized views accusing Israel of sliding towards McCarthyism and racism, calling on America to rape Israel and on Israelis to boycott the Knesset didn't prevent the roof body of New South Wales Jewry - the Board of Deputies - hosting Landau at a luncheon. This action turned out to be an embarrassment when Landau addressed an NIF breakfast meeting just two days later to publicly declare something that happened 25 years ago that he had "not even told his wife":
"Landau said that he himself had “never raised a hand against an unarmed handcuffed man…but he had witnessed an event following the advent of the Intifada which had not given him peace to the present day and I have been silent about it until today. He did not go into detail but said he witnessed “an act of bestiality” perpetrated by family men. The situation drew out of “decent honorable people” the worst of them."
Why Landau had remained silent for so long and had not revealed the identities of those alleged to have taken part in this incident to the relevant authorities at the the time was unexplained. Why he chose to break his silence in Australia and not to his wife first remains a mystery.
Landau also praised the NIF Funded organization Breaking the Silence which has been roundly criticised in Israel for receiving funding from overseas governments to pursue its political agenda outside Israel in what many regard as being anti-Zioinist.
He said the present Israeli government was waging war on today’s NGOs and Breaking the Silence is threatened with extinction. Landau said “there is legislation afoot aimed at Breaking the Silence”. He said the group has two sources for funds…the NIF and the British and Dutch governments but the new legislation would block the international funding. This, he added, will impact on the New Israel Fund itself.

Landau said he was bewildered to find the New Israel Fund “under attack” in Sydney and that Breaking the Silence was “vilified and ostracised”. He said that Breaking the Silence are “the conscience of our people”. He said “you are either a person with moral fibre and an ethical code and a Jewish backbone or you’re not”. He said there is no better place to put your investment in a Jewish future"

Landau's defence of Breaking The Silence (BtS) and his allegations of IDF behavior brought forth a spirited reply from Dr Ron Weiser, the Honorary Life president of the State Zionist Council of new South Wales, who wrote:

BtS misrepresents itself as promoting human rights in Israel, but this small group focuses on European and North American audiences, repeating unsupported accusations of war crimes, as quoted in the discredited Goldstone report.

In March this year BtS hosted an exhibit in Sweden. BtS spokesperson Itamar Shaipra stated “We are the oppressors, we are the ones that are violating human rights on a daily basis. We are creating the terror against us, basically”

There is a general pattern with BtS claims, sensational unsupported allegations with names and documentation being extremely vague, headlines that damage Israel and the IDF, followed much later by reality.

Let’s be very clear. Any abuse of power is to be condemned, especially if it involves the deliberate mistreatment of other human beings.

Israel has a long and proud track record in dealing strongly and effectively with any such incidents that have occurred on rare occasions, in complete contravention of Israeli law and policy.

People who claim to have witnessed such incidents abrogate their duty and moral responsibility by not reporting them in a timely manner and to the proper authorities.

Coming to Australia and making unsubstantiated sensationalised claims about supposed incidents that are alleged to have taken place years previously and were never reported, should be treated with the scepticism they deserve.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Danny Lamm this week was prompted to enter the controversy saying he was sorry that former Ha’aretz editor-in-chief David Landau had been given an opportunity to speak to Jewish audiences.

“Some of his statements are statements that can be used to delegitimise Israel, for example a boycott of the Knesset and the statements that his 'idea of a wet dream is the rape of Israel',” Lamm said.

“These are obscene comments and this is unacceptable stuff.”

“The ECAJ would not have hosted him." - an oblique reference to Landau's luncheon date with the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

“I am sorry that he is here and I’m sorry that he has been given the opportunity to speak to our audiences,” Lamm said.

NSW Board of Deputies President Yair Miller attempted to justify the Board's invitation to Landau by stating:

“The board of deputies is the communal roof body, and as a mature, open-minded organisation it makes available a range of views to its membership,” he said. We expect that our members will engage with and challenge views that they find controversial.
The Landau lunch, which was a private function, conducted under Chatham House rules, had a guest list restricted to elected deputies, and gave our members this opportunity.”
Given this disaster, said an Australian activists, one can possibly anticipate the Board of Deputies inviting Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal as a future luncheon guest.
Most of the criticism posted against Landau and the NIF in the many blog postsappearing on J-Wire was directed at its funding of organizations with anti-Zionist objectives such as Breaking The Silence, the Negev Coexistence Forum and Mossawa. Those posting called on NIF to review its financial support of such organisations.