NIF exec says attacks have boosted donations, awareness

Donations to the New Israel Fund have increased by 35 percent since the organization came under intense fire in recent months and was accused by a right-wing Israeli political group of working against the Jewish state.

“The attacks on the fund not only encourage our core backers, they also attract new supporters who had never heard of us before,” said NIF Chief Executive Officer Daniel Sokatch. “The attacks have increased awareness to our activity.”

Daniel Sokatch

The NIF is a U.S.-based organization that funds civil society activists in Israel. Though headquartered in Washington, D.C., Sokatch, former CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, continues to live and work in San Francisco.

Donations increased after the Zionist student group Im Tirtzu launched a campaign accusing the NIF of direct responsibility for the United Nations’ Goldstone report, which criticized the Israel Defense Forces for conduct during the Gaza offensive in the winter of 2008-09.

On its website, Im Tirtzu describes itself as “an extra-parliamentary movement to strengthen Zionist values.” Earlier this year, it published a report claiming that 92 percent of the Goldstone allegations criticizing the IDF came from 16 Israeli NGOs that received some $7.8 million from the NIF in 2008-09.

Arguing that the Im Tirtzu case was baseless, NIF President Naomi Chazan noted in February that materials the grantee groups allegedly transferred to Goldstone are mostly in the public domain. And even if they were not, it would be the duty of the groups to pass on what they know, she said.

In February, the Knesset dismissed Im Tirtzu’s call for an investigation into the NIF.

According to NIF data published last week, the first few months of 2010 saw a 35 percent spike in donations compared with the same period last year. The fund raised $26 million in 2009.

“Our organization is pro-Israeli and establishes democratic institutions that are [based on the principles] of the Israeli declaration of independence,” said Sokatch. “No one likes to be attacked, especially when the attacks are unfounded. We feel as though we are in line with most of America’s Jews regarding their attitude toward Israel.”

According to Sokatch, more than 10,000 people have signed a petition calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Net-anyahu to publicly defend the NIF. “Tens of thousands of Jews who love Israel have come under attack there. The fact is that America’s Jews have never spoken in one voice. We support Israel as a Jewish state, but as one that is open to all its citizens,” he said.

The NIF is committed to “democratic change within Israel” and believes Israel “can live up to its founders’ vision of a state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race or gender,” according to its website.

The Im Tirtzu campaign apparently also led to a 500 percent increase in the number of fans on the NIF’s Facebook page.

JTA contributed to this report.