A far-right party in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has placed leading Jewish charities on a “blacklist” accusing them of secretly planning to infect Israel’s education system with liberal values.
The blacklist, drawn up by the ultra-conservative party Noam, also claims the UK and US governments are part of the plot.
Among the organisations named is Yad Hanadiv, the widely respected charity founded by the Rothschild family and formerly chaired by British investment banker Lord Jacob Rothschild; and the New Israel Fund, an international philanthropic body which has raised more than £30 million for educational, human rights and other projects in Israel.
Others on the list include the US-based Mandel Foundation, which has given many millions to support Jewish education and culture, and the Shalom Hartman Institute, a leading sponsor of Jewish education and thought in both Israel and America.
The blacklist was first drawn up in 2019 when Noam’s leader, Avi Maoz, was little known outside Israel.
But he has now been appointed Deputy Minister of Education in the new government and is to head a department based in the Prime Minister’s Office to be called the “National Authority for National-Jewish Identity”.
His role is set to give him sweeping powers to determine which organisations can work in partnership with the Israeli Education Ministry and schools, raising fears that organisations on the list will be excluded.
A series of other Noam blacklists, published in the Israeli media, include one naming gay journalists and media workers, claiming they operate as a “pink mafia” and seek to “promote” homosexuality.
Another list accuses supposedly “extreme-left” female academic experts of planning a “radical feminist takeover” of the Israeli Defence Forces that will “undermine” their effectiveness by integrating women into combat service.
The lists features coloured graphics indicating how members of the “conspiracies” are interlinked.
The document on education is headed ‘The takeover of the Ministry of Education: How liberal organisations and foreign governments control the Ministry — summary’.
According to the paper, these entities “quietly, under the surface, came to a deep and continuous takeover of the centres of power in the Ministry of Education”. The document provides no evidence to support the claims.
One of the most prominent organisations cited which has close links to Britain is Merchavim, an educational charity. Until recently Michal Herzog, the wife of President Isaac Herzog, was a trustee.
The organisation’s London-born founder Mike Prashker, told the JC: “The organisations on the blacklist have always worked closely with the State of Israel and the Ministry of Education.
“I founded Merchavim on the basis of the British democratic traditions I grew up on, and so believe in making Israel treat all its citizens with fairness and dignity. All our programmes are about strengthening shared citizenship for Israelis from all backgrounds, and providing equal opportunities for all.
“To find that these values mean being put on this blacklist is extremely sobering.”
Among Merchavim’s most successful programmes is a scheme that has placed and integrated more than 1,000 Arab teachers, mostly of science and maths, in Israeli Jewish schools. Mr Prashker said he feared this was now in jeopardy.
Mr Maoz and his party had, he added, made no secret of their deep antipathy not only to Arabs, and women’s and gay rights, but to Masorti, Reform, secular and Liberal Jews. “They do not want democratic, pluralist programmes of any kind.”
Mr Prashker shared a letter he received in 2008 from the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that has pride of place on his desk.
“Merchavim is one of the great organisations in Israel, a living embodiment of Jewish values at their best”, Rabbi Sacks wrote.
The Noam education blacklist also includes foreign governments that have helped to fund programmes such as those run by Merchavim, which has been supported by the Foreign Office.
Noeleen Cohen, the chair of the UK branch of the New Israel Fund (NIF), said she had “no doubt” that the blacklist document posed a “real threat” to her organisation’s work – and revealed its international board was due to meet in order to discuss it.
She told the JC: “We don’t yet know what will happen to our organisation and those we support, but what they are alleging — that we are part of some kind of conspiracy — is grotesque.
“We also don’t know how far they want to go — for example, will they even try to change the early years sector?”
It was possible, she added, that attempts might be made to stop NIF staff entering Israel from abroad.
“The idea that we are trying to take over the Ministry of Education is simply mad,” she said.
“But a large part of our work involves trying to equalise the education sector between Jews and Arabs, and there does seem to be a huge risk to that and to our grantees who do this.”
A senior figure from another blacklisted organisation who asked not to be named said it seemed as if Noam believed liberals were trying to “brainwash” teachers and students.
But while that might sound extreme, he said Mr Maoz was politically astute, and might well succeed in enacting measures that would make the organisations’ work more difficult — such as imposing a tax on foreign donations.
Mr Maoz and his colleagues have made no attempt to disown the blacklists. A party spokesman responded by thanking the Israeli media for “helping to promote transparency” and invited readers to read documents in full.