Left-wing NGOs working for all Israeli citizens
Op-ed: Unlike right-wing NGOs, which favor projects that serve the Right’s political agenda, civil society organizations affiliated with the Left have universal goals. The New Israel Fund supports feminist groups without asking the women who they plan to vote for, and has been promoting public housing regardless of the political views in the periphery.
On the day we marked the destruction of the Temple due to unfounded hatred, the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, chose to refer to us as “The Israel Destruction Fund.”
I can’t say we were surprised; the Right has been slandering us for years. When we were the first to support women’s rights, they said we would destroy the nuclear Jewish family. When we carried the LGBT flag and supported the Jerusalem Pride Parade, they said there would be a battle of Armageddon here. For about 40 years now, we have been operating behind the scenes to advance freedom, equality diversity and social justice.
The other side of the coin is reflected in the right-wing media. There, the words “democracy” and “human rights” have become a red rag, while the activity of right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu or Ad Kan is presented as spontaneous and patriotic organizations dealing with the Left with poor budgets. In actual fact, the reality is the other way around. Most Israeli citizens are unaware of the extensive activity of right-wing funds and NGOs in Israel, which clearly favor projects beyond the Green Line or projects that serve the Right’s political agenda—from an attack on human rights organizations and politicians from the Left to legal aid to Jews who have hurt Arabs. They are less interested in the wide Israeli story.
A Peace Now investigation, for example, reveals that the Central Fund of Israel raises $15-25 million a year that are awarded to organizations like Im Tirtzu and even Honenu, which provides legal protection to Jews who have hurt Arabs and has supported the family of murderer Ami Popper and members of the Bat Ayin Underground. One Israel Fund is fully dedicated to projects in the settlements, and the list goes on.
How does an Israeli living in the periphery benefit from these millions of dollars? What does a child from the northern city of Kiryat Shmona or from the southern city of Rahat stand to gain from these huge donations? What is the public benefit of the millions that have gone to NGO Monitor, apart from deepening the polarization in the Israeli society?
On the other hand, the civil society organizations affiliated with the Left are mostly characterized by universal goals. The New Israel Fund (NIF) supports feminist organizations without asking the women if they plan to vote for the Right or for the Left. It supports defense organizations for the Ethiopian community not for the sake of votes, but for social justice. It has been working for public housing for decades, regardless of the political opinions in cities like Ofakim or Karmiel. It invests in cultural projects which benefit all of Israel’s citizens.
The attacks on the NIF and on the left-wing NGOs have nothing to do with their activity, most of which isn’t even covered by the press. How many Israelis know that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel protests also against harming detainees from the Right? Or about its cooperation with different soccer clubs against violence in the courts? The real explanation for the attacks has to do, first of all, with the Right’s need to maintain a patriotic appearance, although it has disconnected long ago from the real interests of all Israeli citizens.
This process has been going on for years. As the Israeli Right has become more capitalist and nationalist, its ability to respond to challenges like the cost of living or the growing gaps in society has been reduced. Not to mention issues like enforcing LGBT rights by law, approving construction plans for Israel’s Arabs or encouraging a process of mending rifts and uniting the Israeli society. Instead of a policy that will move all of Israel’s citizens forward, it’s offering the public empty patriotism and persecution of political opponents. The right-wing funds have an important place in this strategy, which is unfortunately yielding quite a lot of political dividends.
The argument between the Right and the Left is a good and crucial argument, but in between the slogans and the accusations, we should occasionally also check who are investing millions in themselves and in their political goals and who are working for all Israelis. The results may surprise you.
Mickey Gitzin is the executive director of the New Israel Fund.