Daniel Sokatch’s essay (“The ‘Smear’ With The Hebrew Accent,” April 8) reads like a New Israel Fund (NIF) fundraising article: exaggerate the threats to its progressive agenda in appealing to its anti-Netanyahu fundraising base. In particular, Sokatch claimed that the Netanyahu coalition has pursued policies “further marginalizing Israel’s Arab minority.” Sokatch ignored the ongoing efforts to advance occupationally and educationally the Arab minority. These efforts have resulted in Arab enrollment at Technion reaching over 20 percent, enabling Nazareth to become a large hub for high-tech. It ignored the ongoing efforts in the Bedouin Negev to improve the education and employment of Arab women.
Ron Gerlitz, co-director of Sikkuy, one of NIF’s funded NGOs, stated, “[T]he government has been making a series of investments that are slowly but surely improving the Arabs’ socioeconomic situation.” Yes, Gerlitz correctly goes on to note discriminatory land allocation policies but put it in the context of building on the successful reforms that have already occurred.
Sokatch then raised the specter of McCarthyism to further demonize the Netanyahu coalition and deflect away from serious criticisms of NIF funding decisions. The modest harassment some of NIF’s funded groups are experiencing has nothing in common with McCarthyism. After the last Gaza War, some individuals were fired for their posts. Like Sokatch today, many of the NIF-funded groups used this action to signal the triumph of McCarthyism. When Sikkuy alone sought to fight these firings in court, it won back the jobs of everyone whom it defended.
There is a struggle within the Israeli Arab community. On the one hand, Hadash and its leaders have chosen the path of fighting for reforms within the system to further integrate Israeli Arabs into the mainstream. On the other hand, Balad leads nationalist forces that reject integrationist reforms and instead seek autonomy within Israel and solidarity with Palestinian forces in the West Bank and Gaza. Unfortunately, NIF funds both sides in this struggle: reformist-minded groups like Sikkuy and nationalist groups that work against reforms and Arab integration.
NIF has every right to fund these regressive forces but should not be surprised that it is criticized for doing so.
Professor of Economics Brooklyn College