NIF Australia's launch provokes war of words


A branch of the New Israel Fund has opened in Australia, triggering a forceful reaction from detractors who accuse the human rights organisation of crossing "red lines" by funding groups that seek to delegitimise Israel.

NIF, which has raised in excess of $200 million for more than 800 non-governmental organisations in Israel since 1979, will be chaired by Sydney-based barrister Robin Margo, the immediate past president of the Jewish community in New South Wales.

"NIF strives to promote the vision of Zionism that is contained, indeed promised, in Israel's Declaration of Independence, namely 'equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex'," Mr Margo said.

But Dr Ron Weiser, a former president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, accused NIF of funding organisations that undermine Israel's "legitimacy and morality".

"It seems clear on past evidence that some NIF grantees such as Adalah, the Coalition of Women for Peace and the Sheik Jarrah Solidarity Movement… cross some red lines," he said.

But Mr Margo countered that CWP has ceased being an NIF grantee and that NIF considers the BDS to be harmful and misguided.

"There are good reasons why NIF funds some Israeli-Arab organisations, such as Adalah, or organisations that support Arab-Israelis, like Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement," Mr Margo added. "Their main activity must not be inconsistent with NIF's principles, but they, and Arab-Israelis generally, cannot reasonably be expected to share the Jewish perspective on the Zionist narrative."

Dr Weiser said that he did not oppose the establishment of NIF in Australia. "What we have been trying to do is to encourage NIF to return to the good social and welfare work it does."

The advent of NIF in Australia comes a year after the last-minute cancellation of a visit here by NIF president Naomi Chazan following a controversial campaign by the Israeli right-wing student organisation Im Tirzu, which alleged that "without the New Israel Fund there could be no Goldstone report". NIF rebuffed the accusations as baseless.

"Attempts by some in Australia and overseas to denigrate the NIF have failed to dent the enthusiasm we are seeing for the establishment of NIF in this country," Mr Margo said.

NIF also has branches in America, Canada, Switzerland and the UK.

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