Gerald Steinberg is the director of the right-wing Israel group, NGO Monitor. His mission is to “expose” the “perfidy” of supposed liberal or dovish Israeli, European and Palestinian NGOs which claim to advance Middle East peace but which really, in his opinion, advance hatred of Jews and/or Israel.
Exhibit A in Steinberg’s docket is the New Israel Fund. NIF has for several decades raised funds from American Jews (including those of Seattle) to support social and political reform within Israeli society. Among the issues they champion are dialogue between religious and secular Israelis, women’s rights, empowering the Israeli poor, and promoting the equality of the Israeli Arab population.
In his screed (“Back door delegitimization,” March 6), NGO Monitor’s Dan Kosky accuses Adalah of supporting the “back-door destruction of Israel” and of “advocating Israel’s annihilation as a Jewish state.” These charges are little more than unfounded smears. Let us examine the “danger” that Adalah poses to Israel: It envisions an Israel that guarantees equal rights to all citizens regardless of ethnicity or religion. It envisions an Israel in which all religions will be treated equally. It envisions an Israel in which Hebrew and Arabic will both be respected languages; where Arabs will have equal opportunity for jobs and education; where Arab communities will receive their fair share of public subsidy.
We in the United States have struggled mightily with similar issues and, after more than two centuries, embraced a view that is not dissimilar from that of Adalah. We believe that for our democracy to thrive, all citizens regardless of color, religion or ethnicity must participate equally. We believe that to the extent that we fall short of that ideal our society has failed to realize its founding vision.
That is all Adalah asks as well. It does not want to “destroy” Israel. It is not a fifth column. In fact, if you read the Israeli Declaration of Independence, it embraces Adalah’s vision:
The State of Israel will…foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture….
Israeli and Diaspora Jews must decide their vision for the State of Israel. Is it a democratic state along the lines of Western democracies in which rights are apportioned equally to all citizens? Or is it a state upholding Jewish supremacism, which barely tolerates non-Jews in its midst? Adalah, along with many Israeli Jews, believe that Israel must choose the path of true democracy. This path will not endanger the place of Judaism as a foundational religion within the state. But it will add Islam as a religion that deserves equal respect. It will not downgrade Jewish rights (except the right to dominate non-Jewish citizens). It will expand non-Jewish rights.
The NGO Monitors of the world say “no” to this possibility. It threatens their notion that Israel is a place by, for, and of Jews. While they’re entitled to their opinion, they aren’t entitled to use overheated rhetoric to falsify Adalah’s record or mission. There’s a place in Israel for Gerald Steinberg and his views alongside those of Adalah. If there isn’t, then Israeli democracy will be all the poorer.
The New Israel Fund is doing precisely what it should be doing to support Israeli democracy by funding Adalah. No smear by NGO Monitor should dissuade it from the path of righteousness. In fact, it should be proud of this aspect of its mission.