In June 2010, amidst considerable controversy, an Australian branch of the New Israel Fund (NIF) was launched by its president, former MK Naomi Chazan, who a few months earlier had been disinvited from an Australian Zionist speaking engagement because of controversies associated with the NIF.
In September last year, I wrote a critical review of the NIF, observing that whilst the majority of the organizations who were beneficiaries of over $200 million of funds dispersed by the NIF were engaged in worthy welfare and developmental projects, vast funds were also being provided to groups engaged in campaigns to delegitimize Israel.
Foremost amongst these groups, I referred to Adala which, in addition to promoting the Goldstone Report, urged foreign governments “to reevaluate their relationship with Israel”, described Israel as “a colonial enterprise promoting apartheid”, called for implementing the Palestinian right of return to Israel, provided affidavits to Spanish courts to charge Israeli officials with war crimes and defended a Hezbollah spy as a “human rights defender”.
I also related to NIF-sponsored “Breaking the Silence” another organization which had paved the way for the Goldstone Report.
Presumably in order to improve their image, Australian NIF invited a prominent Israeli to promote their case to the Jewish community and Australian media.
They made the disastrous blunder of selecting David Landau, a talented and articulate writer who has published a number of influential books, including the recent biography of Ben-Gurion based on interviews with President Shimon Peres. The NIF also highlighted the fact that he was orthodox and a former yeshiva student.
However, Landau, former editor of Haaretz is renowned for promoting far left views which the majority of Israelis would consider contemptible. He is the Israeli correspondent of The Economist which, to put it mildly, is unfriendly to Israel. He is also highly regarded by the BBC, which frequently interviews him.
Many Israelis still recollect that in September 2007 in the course of an intimate gathering at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, he informed the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “it has always been my wet dream to address the Secretary of State” and suggest how to act in relation to Israel. He then went on to describe Israel as a politically “failed state” and urged the US impose a solution on Israel, telling Rice “I implore you to intervene” adding that the government of Israel “wished to be raped”. His remarks appeared in the media and created a considerable furor.
Last year, in the course of condemning the Knesset for its current controversial NGO legislation, Landau stated “I call on parliaments throughout the democratic world and inter-parliamentary associations, to boycott Israel’s parliament, once the pride of the Jewish people, until it buries the bill and recovers its democratic heritage”.
Australian Jews, a largely post-Holocaust community, are passionately Zionist and strongly committed to pro Israel advocacy. Over the decades, they have succeeded in cultivating a climate of political bipartisanship and friendship towards Israel which is probably unique in the Western world. Their leaders have also maintained a tradition of avoiding public criticism of security policies adopted by the democratically elected government of Israel.
Many Jewish leaders were apprehensive that Landau would articulate his anti-government views to the Australian media. Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, refused to meet or endorse him and subsequently bitterly criticized some of his remarks to the media.
However, president of NIF Australia, Robin Margo, seemed unconcerned that linking his organization with a person espousing such views would be counterproductive. In fact when the West Australian Jewish community’s Director of Public Affairs, Steve Lieblich, circulated my article on the NIF and background information about Landau to his colleagues on the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Margo declined to refute the information and instead sought to intimidate him by threatening that he could be subject to legal action for “distributing grossly defamatory material”. “I suggest you take legal advice” he told him.
In such an environment, one might have expected Landau to be cautious about expressing his more radical views. But in fact, he told the media that McCarthyism in Israel was rife and that “the poison of the occupation is seeping back and corroding our democracy… local Jews needed to speak out instead of blindly toeing the government line”.
He castigated settlers, alleging that they “resort to subterfuge to make life difficult for the Palestinians”. As an example he claimed that “little settler boys” scattered drawing pins on the carpets of mosques. In a subsequent ABC interview he conceded that his grandchildren lived over the Green Line, claiming that they were being brainwashed to discriminate against Arabs.
He also stated that Goldstein’s murderous rampage in Hebron in February 1994 was not the act of a man who had lost his senses but a calculated operation to “derail the Oslo Peace Process”.
At a breakfast meeting in Sydney, prefacing remarks endorsing the actions of the NIF- sponsored “Breaking the Silence”(BTS), Landau defamed the IDF.
He recounted how 25 years ago whilst on reserve duty in Hebron, he had witnessed a fellow soldier committing an unspecified act of “bestiality” which tortured him to this day and which he had not yet confided to anyone, including his wife. One could of course ask him to explain why after witnessing “bestial” acts committed by a fellow IDF soldier, he failed to immediately report the incident to his commanding officer. And why he should raise this issue now in such a vague and tortuous manner, in Australia of all places?
In fact, this vague charge of IDF “bestiality” was a prelude to Landau lauding the NIF- sponsored organization.
BTS, created in 2004, paved the way for the Goldstone Report by releasing unsubstantiated anonymous “testimony” from former Israeli soldiers accusing the IDF of war crimes which were plastered on the front pages of the global media. When subsequently proven to be without substance the damage was irreversible and Israel became imbedded in many countries as a criminal state.
When the Goldstone commission compiled the despicable report – from which Goldstone has now distanced himself, BTS provided them with “evidence” of alleged Israeli war crimes.
In March this year, BTS hosted an exhibit in Sweden introducing it with the statement: “we are the oppressors, we are the ones that are violating human rights on a daily basis. We are basically creating terror against us”.
This is the organization whose budget the NIF tripled last year and whose spokesman told the Australian media and Jews that it represents the “conscience of our people”.
The NIF is entitled to sponsor enemies of Israel and the Jewish people. But they should do so transparently so that naive charitable donors are not duped into believing that their contributions are being utilized to transform Israel into a better society.
It is surely also unconscionable for the local affiliate of the NIF to host an Israeli emissary, who undermines the long-standing efforts of Australian community leaders to maintain strong bipartisan support for Israel.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post