Washington – In a strategic shift, the New Israel Fund is arming itself with a set of sharp political tools and picking a fight.
Its target: Israel’s political right.
Its weapons: Opposition research, media monitoring, and staking its claims to patriotism and Zionism.
If NIF’s dramatic language, outlined in a Sept. 18 release, and its tough new posture seem familiar, it’s because the funder is adopting tactics used by the right to marginalize NIF and its clients.
“Over the past decade, Israel has endured an assault on liberal democratic values and a growing defiance of democratic norms, endangering freedom of speech and conscience as well as minority rights,” the release said. “Overt racism, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise.”
The shift for NIF, said Daniel Sokatch, the group’s executive director, is its readiness to directly confront the right.
“It’s time to try and put wind in the sails of people who are pushing back against an increasingly narrow, increasingly xenophobic, increasingly undemocratic vision of Israel and what Israel can be,” Sokatch told JTA.
There’s not much substantively new in the NIF initiative: Some of the groups named under the rubric “New Initiatives for Democracy” have been funded by NIF for years, and other proposals, like monitoring right-wing media, remain amorphous.
It’s also not clear whether the $2 million earmarked for the initiative in 2014 is an increase in existing funding for the named projects, although Naomi Paiss, NIF’s spokeswoman, said that in time the proportion of funding for the initiative will increase. NIF currently runs a budget of $30 million and doles out grants totaling $10 million annually.