‘New Israel Fund’ explains why it opposes BDS

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Lately Samah Sabawi offered a critique of the New Israel Fund‘s stance on boycott-divestment-sanctions at this site. A response from NIF:

The article by Samah Sabawi, regarding Professor Naomi Chazan’s visit to Australia and our organization’s stance on global BDS, deserves response.

The New Israel Fund arrived at its current BDS policy after much thoughtful debate within our broad-based family of organizations and stakeholders. We do not fund organizations with global BDS programs, although organizations involved in specific boycotts of settlement goods and services are not disqualified from funding.

Contrary to the implications of Ms. Sabawi’s article, NIF does not oppose global BDS to retain “privilege” for Israel’s Jewish majority. We are on record time and time again as insisting on full equality for Israel’s minority Palestinians. We are on record time and time again against the occupation and the settlement enterprise. We were the first funder of civil rights organizations representing Israel’s Palestinian minority and we continue to support those groups despite the extraordinary controversy it entails from those who do not understand why we would fund organizations that reject the Zionist narrative.

We believe that global BDS is a counter-productive and inflammatory strategy, for the reasons Professor Chazan discussed exhaustively in Australia and elsewhere. We think that both the proponents and antagonists of the global BDS movement exaggerate its impact to elevate their own ideologies and the threats of their opponents; as a study by The Forward demonstrated, global BDS has created a lot of heat but very little light. That said, Professor Chazan acknowledged in Australia that it is generally a legitimate, non-violent tool of democratic action. It is not one that we support or fund. We are not “aggressively campaigning” against the global BDS movement – it is a distraction from our job of serious social change in Israel. Every organization working in Israel sooner or later faces the BDS question, and we’ve answered that question to our own, if not to everyone’s, satisfaction. We surely are not defending the American arms industries! We are going about our business, painfully difficult and challenging now, of strengthening Israeli democracy and supporting hundreds of organizations and thousands of activists working in dozens of sectors for equality and justice.

Professor Chazan, a renowned political scientist, would be very capable of making the case that being attacked from all sides is the lot in life of any broad-based, nuanced, big-tent organization or mission. Our principles are clear ( and will not suit everyone. Global BDS is a strategy, and one that we do not believe will bring about the desired result of an egalitarian and just Israel existing alongside an egalitarian and just Palestine.

It is fair to differ with us on our strategic analysis. It is not fair to characterize Professor Chazan, a human rights activist for her entire career, as an “enabler” of inequality. The venomous criticism she has endured, particularly in the past two years, for her bravery and leadership deserve respect, even from her ideological adversaries. Professor Chazan and the New Israel Fund respect civil discourse and empower the disempowered to find and use their voices, even when their conclusions differ from ours. 

We ask the same in return.

Naomi Paiss is Director of Communications for the New Israel Fund.

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