WikiLeaks: How Charity Donations From American Jews are Used to Finance Israel’s Far Left
Step 1: Get Charity Donations From Well-Meaning American Jews; Step 2: Use Money to Finance Israel’s Far Left
A newly leaked U.S. Embassy cable provides a startling revelation, not so much of the extremist anti-Israel views of one high-ranking New Israel Fund official, but of how money supposedly raised for good deeds pays for full-time radical activists and finances the Israeli political far left.
And this introduced the complex story of an Israeli social protest movement torn between trying to solve real problems with very specific reforms and seeking to bring down the government and transform Israel into a version of an economically faltering European welfare state.
As a result of the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to make peace, the 1990s peace process failure, and the violent 2000-2005 intifada, the Israeli left largely disintegrated or moved towards the center. Suddenly, however, the left has revived in recent months by shifting focus from failed proposals for massive concessions to the Palestinians to protests about Israeli housing and other prices. In this context, Israel’s social protest movement has nothing to do with the “Arab Spring,” and everything to do with trends in Europe and North America.
Of course, many Israelis face real problems with the gap between wages and living costs. Almost everyone I meet — including those on the right — sympathize with the protest even if they have doubts about its leaders and demands. They also all know a long list of factors making Israel different from Europe or North America.
Most understand that Israel has prospered because of jettisoning once-useful but now burdensome socialist features. A few years ago Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became a hero even to many on the left for successful privatization reforms. More recently, the very economic decisions tending to make prices higher and keep wages lower also kept down unemployment, debt, and inflation.
Today’s problems that have motivated protests are a combination of remaining socialist practices, the peculiarities of Israel’s social structure, and the country’s security situation. They have nothing much to do with capitalism or class conflict. And they could be reduced by some relatively simple measures.
The most criticized institutions are socialist-based: like the dairy monopoly, and the idea that the state should control land. The religious sector, rather than favoring Tea Parties and government spending cuts, tends to be the biggest per capita welfare recipient. Supermarket prices are high due to the country’s small market, protectionism, and kashrut standards. Israel’s health system, which some call “socialized medicine,” functions pretty well. There are no big landlords; trade unions aren’t important factors. Taxes are high and security issues — most recently the need to rebuild defenses on the border with Egypt — eat up money that might otherwise be used for social welfare.
Despite all these things, living standards have risen steadily over the years, but maintaining them is stressful for people who often depend on a revolving line of credit from their banks (the overdraft) which they pay off with every month’s paycheck.
To demand the dairy monopoly be broken up to allow competition or that new land beyond the suburbs be opened up for building low-cost housing can succeed. To demand that capitalism be overthrown (in a country that isn’t wildly capitalistic to begin with), that banks provide loans to people who can’t pay them back to buy apartments in expensive urban areas, or that the government go into debt to expand entitlements will not.
Now let’s consider how a recently revealed February 2010 cable (see below) from the U.S. Embassy of a conversation with Hedva Radovanitz, then associate director of the New Israel Fund (NIF) in Israel, fits into this picture.
Radovanitz told an American diplomat that “she believed that in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.”
In other words, the “New Israel” would be a dead Israel.
The NIF issued a statement claiming Radovanitz was speaking for herself, left NIF a year ago, and that the organization disagrees with her statement. Radovanitz’s released her own statement which seems designed to make the NIF look good.
Mentions of her past associations are suspiciously absent from NIF sites — her far-left background makes it seem as if the NIF knew her views when she was hired and wasn’t bothered by them.
Yet all of this is relatively unimportant compared to the rest of the leaked cable.
The NIF solicits contributions in the United States by presenting itself as a pro-Israel liberal group promoting social justice in Israel, including: assisting the poor, helping the handicapped, promoting equality for Arabs, and other good causes. In reality, much of its funds go to support left-wing, full-time “community organizers” and to subsidize political movements. In a sense, the NIF might be Israel’s equivalent of George Soros. The difference is that Soros knows the political goals his money is being used for; the NIF’s contributors do not.
In the cable, Radovanitz tells the American diplomat that the big problem is the “disappearance of the political left wing,” giving as an example an NGO which had shrunk from 5,000 members to less than 800. The left wing, she continued, only holds demonstrations by using NGO staff members — presumably paid with NIF grants — to pretend they are regular concerned citizens.
The NIF’s plan, said Radovanitz, was to create “a movement rather than just a lot of NGOs.” This strategy worked. Eighteen months later, the NIF was the main funder of a large “social protest” movement.
A new NGO Monitor report details how NIF funding has gone to left-wing groups more involved in political propaganda and organizing than in charity or social welfare work. The money is used for challenging Israeli policies, helping its enemies, and rebuilding the Israeli left.
In other words, the NIF really doesn’t agree with Radovanitz that the New Israel should be a dead Israel. Rather, it wants the New Israel to be an Israel in debt, with high unemployment, inflation, a sick economy, a strangling government bureaucracy, and even more onerous taxes.
Again, the social protest movement is contending with real problems. The demonstrators don’t want an anti-capitalist revolution but reasonable adjustments to make their lives easier.
But will the movement focus on solving shortcomings in a realistic manner — reducing government bureaucracy to increase construction; limited, focused help to those needing housing; better competition to cut prices — or by attacking capitalism and advocating massive government subsidies like those causing havoc with Western economies?
Uniquely Israeli factors may determine events: possibly violent Palestinian demonstrations in late September; the end of the fun-to-demonstrate summer period; growing Egyptian radicalism; and a big UN mess over unilateral Palestinian independence may push Israeli conversation back toward the usual stuff.
A new party based on the social protest movement might actually sabotage the existing left. Former general Shaul Mofaz might become leader of Kadima, the main opposition party, a development equivalent to Senator Joe Lieberman becoming head of the Democratic Party.
Finally, those far-left tendencies of the movement are likely to turn off most Israelis. When a half-dozen kids recruiting for the scout movement at my son’s elementary school show up wearing red shirts with a picture of Che Guevara (who supported anti-Israel terrorists) and the slogan “Change,” it sets off alarm bells. Unlike many in Europe and North America, building fantasy utopias and ignoring reality are things whose high prices will discourage Israelis even more than the cost of apartments and cottage cheese.
Reference ID: 10TELAVIV439
Created: 2010-02-25 09:08
Origin: Embassy Tel Aviv
DE RUEHTV #0439/01 0560908
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 250908Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5631
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 000439
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/25/2020
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KWBG IS
SUBJECT: KNESSET CONSIDERS CONTROVERSIAL NGO LEGISLATION TO
REGISTER AS FOREIGN AGENTS
Classified By: DCM Luis G. Moreno for reasons 1.4 (b),(d).
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Knesset passed a preliminary reading of
legislation on February 17 that would require individuals and
NGOs to register any funding received from foreign political
entities. Many NGOs were concerned with the possible effects
of the draft legislation, which they decried in the press as
part of a trend of delegitimizing the NGOs that criticize
Israel, particularly those which provided testimony for the
Goldstone Report. Several right-wing NGOs called for the
draft legislation as a means of exposing NGOs which they
claim function as political agents of foreign countries and
that influence domestic politics and falsely legitimize
international criticism. The MOJ and MFA are working to
adjust the legislation so that it is not out of line with
Western standards, and have requested sample legislation from
the U.S. regarding both laws regulating NGOs and laws
registering lobbyists as representatives of foreign
governments. End Summary.
¶2. (SBU) The Knesset passed preliminary legislation that
would register foreign funding of NGOs on February 17. By all
accounts, the proposed legislation will likely be amended
before the Knesset passes it as law after its second and
third readings, but the current version would require
registration of all foreign funding from political entities
and public disclosure of such funding whenever used for any
“political activity.” The draft law’s definition of
“political activity” is “activity which aims to influence
public opinion in Israel or to influence any actor within any
governmental authority regarding any of the elements of
domestic or external policies of the State of Israel.” This
broad definition of political activity is at the heart of
this controversial legislation. Also, the draft legislation
would require NGOs receiving foreign funding to register with
the GOI registrar of political parties.
¶3. (SBU) NGOs such as ACRI, B’Tselem, and Gisha quickly
criticized the proposed NGO legislation as directly
threatening their ability to function. They claimed publicly
that it could remove their tax-exempt status, quickly
affecting their bottom line and possibly preventing private
donors and foreign governments from funding their activities
due to restrictions against funding the payment of taxes to a
foreign government. They also complained of possible effects
on their freedom of speech due to the legal consequences of
failure to comply with the proposed disclosure rules not only
in print and Internet material, but also during interviews
and public appearances related to their advocacy.
¶4. (C) NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, a conservative
professor of political science at Bar Ilan University who
initiated the push for this legislation during a December
Knesset conference that was boycotted by most NGOs, told
PolOff on February 24 that the legislation aimed to replicate
the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). He described
the human rights NGOs in Israel as having become thoroughly
discredited in the eyes of most Israelis because their
activities were political in nature, and not truly concerned
with human rights. He decried what he termed the NGOs’
overblown allegations of war crimes at every turn and
specifically cited B’Tselem’s refusal to recognize even
simple facts contrary to its political agenda; B’Tselem’s
counting of Hamas operatives as among the civilian dead
during Operation Cast Lead just because they wore civilian
clothes was one egregious example. Steinberg described such
NGOs as being dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation of
the West Bank with no regard for what would happen
afterwards, as though the solution was really that simple and
there were no consequences from Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from
¶5. (C) Steinberg said the legislation was aimed to “send a
signal” that Israeli human rights NGOs’ activities were in
fact “political warfare” that had consequences for Israel
internationally, with the Goldstone Report being a
predictable culmination. He rejected the idea that the
legislation would curb freedom of speech as he maintained
that left-wing NGOs had long monopolized the public space,
accrued much soft-power internationally, and needed to be
opposed by increasing transparency. He saw these NGOs as
playing a crucial role in a vicious cycle whereby foreign
(mostly European) governments funded actions that manipulated
domestic politics, undermined Israel’s international
legitimacy, and falsely legitimized such anti-Israel actions
as the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Steinberg is currently suing the European Union for violating
Freedom of Information laws for funding Israeli NGOs secretly
and estimated that the EU provides almost 10 million dollars
in funding to Israeli NGOs per year and that individual
European states’ funding, particularly Britain, France,
TEL AVIV 00000439 002 OF 002
Germany, Norway, and Switzerland, brought the total to tens
of millions of dollars.
¶6. (C) B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell, who estimated her 9
million NIS ($2.4 million) budget is 95 percent funded from
abroad, mostly from European countries, told PolOff on
February 10 that she did not believe the legislation would
pass in its current form. ACRI’s International Communication
and Development Coordinator, Melanie Takefman, also told
PolOff on February 10 that she believed the troublesome
legislation would be amended and that the NGOs would likely
be able to influence the draft legislation so that it would
achieve its goal of greater transparency without restricting
the NGOs’ ability to operate. Both denied any need for
greater transparency, but said they would welcome it if it
applied equally to all NGOs, including NGO-Monitor and
especially Jewish settler organizations.
¶7. (C) New Israel Fund (NIF) Associate Director in Israel
Hedva Radovanitz, who manages grants to 350 NGOs totaling
about 18 million dollars per year, told PolOff on February 23
that the campaign against the NGOs was due to the
“disappearance of the political left wing” in Israel and the
lack of domestic constituency for the NGOs. She noted that
when she headed ACRI’s Tel Aviv office, ACRI had 5,000
members, while today it has less than 800, and it was only
able to muster about 5,000 people to its December human
rights march by relying on the active staff of the 120 NGOs
that participated. Radovanitz commented that the NIF was
working behind the scenes through many NGOs to prevent the
NGO legislation from passing in its current form. She
commented that she believed that in 100 years Israel would be
majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state
would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would
become more democratic. She also said the NIF was currently
re-evaluating its strategy and was hoping to create a
movement rather than just a lot of NGOs. She said the NIF had
no plans to build a human rights constituency within the
right wing of Israeli society, though she believed politics
had shifted to the right for the foreseeable future.
¶8. (C) The Ministry of Justice Director for Human Rights and
Relations with International Organizations, Hila Tene, told
PolOff in a February 10 meeting that she and the MOJ team
that sit on a weekly legislative review panel would be
strongly advising against the proposed legislation. She did
not believe the broad definition of political activity would
be included in the draft that would emerge from the
Constitution and Law subcommittee. She also mentioned the
vast amount of proposed legislation by the current Knesset
that has failed to ever become law. The MFA Director for
Human Rights and UN Issues, Simona Halperin, also told PolOff
on February 11 that the MFA would be advising against the
legislation. She asked for comparative legislation from the
U.S. regarding NGOs and the registration of foreign agents.
¶9. (C) PolOff provided the MOJ and MFA, as well as the NIF,
ACRI, and NGO Monitor with the State Department’s “Guiding
Principles for Non-Governmental Organizations”
(www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2006/82643.html ) and links to
DOJ’s FARA legislation. All sides accepted the guiding
principles as helpful to achieving their ends. Steinberg
additionally commented, however, that Israel was not like any
other country due to the threats to its existence and the
ideal presented in the principles might not be achievable as
Israel was surrounded by enemies whose political allies were
taking advantage of its democratic and legal institutions to
achieve significant gains. He argued that he did not want the
NGO legislation to feed into the delegitimizing rhetoric, but
that such an unintended consequence might be an acceptable
cost to reduce the power of the NGOs’ current monopolization
of human rights rhetoric for politicized purposes.