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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The difference between allowing free speech and funding free speech

Evelyn Gordon makes an important point about the current controversy involving the New Israel Fund. It's a point that most Israelis have never understood.
Neither Chazan nor her American parent organization has disputed Im Tirtzu’s findings: they do not deny that the NIF grantees supplied the material in question to a UN inquiry into last year’s war in Gaza, nor do they deny the Goldstone Commission’s use of it. On the contrary, Chazan said she was “ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy,” while the NIF’s American CEO, Daniel Sokatch, told the Forward that the grantees bolstered “Israel’s moral fiber and its values” by “tell[ing] the truth.”

If so, why was Chazan so upset over the revelation of the NIF’s contribution to this achievement that when the Knesset announced it wanted more information on the subject — a Knesset committee said it would establish a subcommittee to examine foreign funding of Israeli nonprofits, and one MK even advocated a parliamentary inquiry commission — she responded by accusing the Knesset of trying to “fan incitement”? Since when has the search for, and dissemination of, truthful information constituted incitement?

The answer relates to her other fallacy: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations [the grantees] say, but we support their right to say it.” Actually, so would most Israelis — but they wouldn’t give money to help them say it. And that is a crucial distinction. Freedom of speech means letting people or groups say what they please without fear of prosecution. It does not require anyone to help them do so by giving them money. The minute you donate to a group, you are not just “supporting its right” to speak; you are supporting the content of its speech. After all, the NIF doesn’t fund Im Tirtzu; does that mean it doesn’t support Im Tirtzu’s right to speak?

The problem for the NIF is that many donors might not support this particular content. Indeed, the Forward reported that when the NIF sought statements of support from other major Jewish groups, only three had complied as of February 3: Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Much of this country still operates on the old socialist mindset that says that government (or other outside sources) have to fund anything. So if they're not getting public money they claim they're being 'suppressed.'

The best outcome of this whole situation would be if the New Israel Fund's donors look into the organizations that their donations are funding and decide that they're not exactly what the donors had in mind. That's the outcome that Chazan and her fellow travelers fear most of all.


At 4:27 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Agreed. I think the outcome of this state of affairs has taken the halo off Israeli NGOs and has subjected them to the same kind of scrutiny every other group in Israel receives. Israelis understand NGOs have an agenda and they're just as partisan as every one else. That's been obvious in America for quite a while now.

Just ask HRW and the ACLU.



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