The New Israel Forum is an annual event put on by the New Israel Fund, an organization that raises money for social change in Israel. It’s a group that has an interesting challenge: it appeals to pro-Israel Jews in the United States, and then gives the money to nonprofits in Israel who are often bitterly critical of their own country.

Naomi Chazan at the New Israel Forum in New York

Naomi Chazan at the New Israel Forum in New York

To make this work, it’s important to message in a particular way. The money is from Jews who are not only pro-the-Israel-we-have-now, but pro-what-Israel-could-be. The beneficiaries are not so much critical of Israel, as they are part of an ongoing process of social change that is normal for every country, and is no more ‘anti-Israel’ than is the women’s or peace movement in the United States.

And this is somewhat true; but what about the money that goes to Arab Israeli or radical left wing organizations that define equality in a way that brands Israel as a racist state? What about funds towards human rights organizations that help Israel’s enemies in branding her as the country that is in the wrong, and thus undermining Israel’s image and strength around the world?

This is a conflict that others have pointed to: JTA’s Michael Jordan has wrote an article that does a good job of highlighting the conflict. (By ‘good job’ I mean he faithfully represents the hysterical wing of right wing Zionists.)

Personally, I’m quite happy that NIF exists. Full disclosure: I’ve worked for a number of organizations with connections to NIF, most especially Green Action, where I served as director in the late 90s.

This is my take: I wish that the grantees critical of Israel in deep and fundamental ways had more direct access to the donors and the American Jewish public in general. It’s possible that this would cause a little dip in donations – not every statement from every radical Israel activist group would give naches to Jack and Millie Schwartz from Livingston, NJ.

They might say: we do not support the image of an Israel ‘perfected’ but the image of an Israel that is no longer an ‘Israel.’ It’s something else, and we don’t know what. If we succeed, it’s a place where you can still have a role as a Jew living in the US; but so will Palestinians whose grandparents were expelled from Haifa. That future reality will challenge you, and us, but it’s the only way to have this story end well for all of us.

I’m not sure where I stand. These days, I take refuge in a few related ideas: that Diasporic Judaism is Judaism, and not that strangeness in Israel. That Judaism is more important than state sovereignty. That Israel appears to be ‘plan A’ and we are suffering from the absence of an openly debated and accepted ‘plan B’.

Maybe being uncertain, having doubts is a good thing. It certainly feels authentic, and allows me to take a step back from ‘messaging appropriately’ and pay more attention to listening, feeling, and opening up my heart.