By Abraham H. Miller
Like every person who reads the Jewish Forward, I received an email solicitation on April 1, 2010, from Daniel Sokatch, chief executive officer of the New Israel Fund (NIF). If I want to save Israeli democracy from the threat of the ultra-orthodox and the settlers, the solicitation informs me, I should sign an email petition for Prime Minister Netanyahu.
No, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, and I immediately thought about who would save Israel from Daniel Sokatch and the NIF.
The NIF and the NGOs it funds are under attack in the Israeli Knesset. Sokatch wants American Jews to pressure the Israeli government to call off its investigation of the relationship between the NIF‘s NGO recipients and the infamous Goldstone Report. This is an uphill struggle for NIF, since the loudest calls for investigation are from Kadima, the Israeli centrist party.
As someone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and has experienced firsthand the effects of Sokatch’s work here as the former CEO of the Jewish Community Federation, I strongly believe most of the members of this Jewish community would eagerly sign a petition that would encourage the Israeli government to pursue its investigation with all deliberate speed. If NIF is innocent of the accusations made against it, let it be exonerated within the democratic process it supports.
Sokatch was hired as CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation because some community leaders believed that a person with an ultra-progressive agenda could mobilize donors who shared his views. These community leaders also believed that exposure to the real world of pluralistic community politics would mature a person with well-honed leadership skills who was perceived as highly intelligent and talented, but politically naive.
None of that happened. There really aren’t a lot of George Soroses out there, even in Berkeley, and people who spend their time railing against capitalism never seem to become terribly successful businessmen. But the biggest disappointment to some was that Sokatch, despite his obvious talents, seemed stuck in his ultra-progressive ideology.
Sokatch left his position at the Jewish Community Federation after only fourteen months. He might have been on his way to different pastures anyhow, but what seemed to seal his fate was last year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Directed by Peter Stein, a man with an Israel-bashing agenda sustained by a compliant board, the festival showcased the crudely crafted documentary Rachel - a piece of vicious anti-Israel propaganda. The film lionized Rachel Corrie, the International Solidarity Movement militant who recklessly got in the way of an Israeli bulldozer.
Stein malevolently added insult to injury by giving the stage to Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, who added to the propaganda value of the film and took a few softball questions from Stein that would have embarrassed even Larry King.
A substantial segment of the film’s audience was comprised of Israel-bashers who hurled anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic epithets at those who challenged the so-called “documentary.” Free speech did not escape the heckler’s veto that day.
Local Zionists demanded that the Jewish Community Federation, which contributes money to the film festival, do something about the outrage. Instead, Sokatch - who was also on the board of the festival - defended it.
A YouTube video of the event, narrated by popular San Francisco radio personality John Rothman, made the email rounds and further underscored the outrage. The video showed in graphic detail the crude behavior of the progressive Hitler Youth that had descended on the festival. Lawrence White, a prominent local physician, echoed the sentiments of many when he squarely placed the blame for the rift in our community on Daniel Sokatch for continuing to defend the showing of Rachel.
The film festival was not Sokatch’s only legacy. Recently, the Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley passed a divestiture resolution against Israel. The resolution was sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, routinely described as the most vicious anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic, group on campus. The progressive Jewish student group, Kesher Enoshi, has worked hand-in-glove with Students for Justice in Palestine. For years, the pro-Zionist students have argued unsuccessfully that Kesher Enoshi had no place at Hillel because of Hillel’s pro-Zionist mandate.
The Jewish Community Federation is a substantial contributor to Hillel. Sokatch, as CEO of the Jewish Community Federation, was a supporter of both Kesher Enoshi and their place in Hillel. The NIF’s view of Kesher Enoshi was summed up to me by one of NIF’s local officers:
They are a group of wonderfully passionate people who are working out how to support Israel in a way consistent with their values. We should encourage their connection to Israel, which is all too rare.
The wonderfully passionate group with a connection to Israel worked with Students for Justice in Palestine to pass the divestiture resolution, and tried to overturn the student president’s veto of the resolution.
NIF’s support recently manifested elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay area, with Dalit Baum and theCoalition of Women for Peace (CWP) - an NGO supported by NIF. Baum, an Israeli, spoke in February at an event sponsored by the Students for Justice in Palestine. At the door, attendees were asked to sign a pledge that they would boycott Israeli goods. Subsequently, they were given a glossy brochure that asked for donations for the CWP, which were to be sent to the NIF’s Washington office.
The brochure soliciting contributions lists eleven CWP allies, such as Machsom Watch, which interferes with Israeli soldiers at checkpoints; Women in Black, which demonstrates against Israel’s right to self-defense; New Profile, which encourages desertion from the Israeli Defense Forces; and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a group that sponsors lectures by Anna Baltzer.
She argues that violence against Israel is a natural reaction to Israeli oppression of Arabs.
Investigative journalist Lee Kaplan, who attended the meeting, notes that Baum boasted of causing Israelis to lose billions in export and investment revenue, and that her campaign is directed not just at the territories but at Israel itself.
If you object to giving money to groups that propose to cripple the Jewish state economically and interfere with its security, and network with other such groups, then it might be appropriate to send Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an email telling him that there is no greater antiseptic for a democratic society than the sunlight of public exposure, and no group should be immunized from it.
Investigate the New Israel Fund.
Abraham H. Miller is Emeritus Professor of Political Science and Former Head of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.
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