This is a test for Israeli democracy

I am proud of my New Israel Fund links, says the sacked Jerusalem Post columnist

By Naomi Chazan, February 11, 2010

As a former deputy speaker of the Knesset and lifelong activist for peace, women’s rights and human rights, it takes a lot to upset me. The recent attack by the new group Im Tirzu which — through distortion, innuendo and outright lies — contends that by funding Israeli human rights groups the New Israel Fund (NIF) bears responsibility for the negative conclusions about Israel in the Goldstone Report, was a good try.

But the crass personalised assault did make me feel that there are forces in Israel that would stoop to nothing to discredit anyone for voicing an opinion — a basic right in any democratic society.

I have been president of NIF for the past two years, but my association with the organisation goes way back. For 30 years, NIF has been founding and funding progressive charities in Israel — our human and civil rights groups, our social justice groups and, particularly important to me, the groups that advocate for tolerance and religious pluralism.

Anyone who loves Israel — and I am without reservation one of those people — should understand that NIF almost singlehandedly built a sector without which a democracy cannot function. As someone who has dissented from conventional wisdom over the course of a long political and academic career, and as someone who believes that constructive criticism is the building block of a better society, I chose to join NIF as its lay leader because I share its mission of constructing a just and humane Israel.

The human rights groups whose reports were cited in the Goldstone report are the canary in the coal mine of Israeli democracy. They professionally and systematically record human rights violations — that is their brief. Many of them were among the first to request that the Israeli government conduct its own independent investigation of Operation Cast Lead. NIF took no position on the report, and the organisations have expressed differing views on Judge Goldstone’s conclusions.

The leaders of two of Israel’s most prominent civil rights groups were recently detained and arrested — for the “crimes” of leading women in prayer at the Kotel and monitoring freedom of speech during a peaceful demonstration. This is an alarming trend that seeks to deny Israelis their basic democratic freedoms, including freedom of speech, association and dissent.

Fortunately, thousands of ordinary people and leaders in both Israel and Jewish communities abroad, from across the political spectrum, have spoken out against the pernicious attempt to vilify us and our commitment to upholding the values of equality and human dignity. The critically important work of the New Israel Fund — empowering ordinary Israelis, ensuring that their voices are heard, promoting fair treatment for Israel’s minority communities — must go on.

Should Israel turn a deaf ear to self-examination and dissent, should a minority continue to attack, through hatred and incitement, those who do not conform to its anti-democratic vision of Israel, the victim will, in fact, be the very essence of Israel — the values of equality and peace ensconced in its declaration of independence.

Professor Naomi Chazan is the President of the New Israel Fund

Last updated: 4:35pm, June 3 2010


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