This one has been doing the email rounds rather feverishly today, and now Jeff Goldberg has run with it:
Well, this is certainly disconcerting: The New Israel Fund, a left-leaning organization I admire (it funds all sorts of civil liberties groups in Israel), states that, on the one hand, the anti-Israel boycott movement (the BDS movement, for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is pursuing a counterproductive and inflammatory strategy, but on the other, it will continue to fund groups that support BDS, so long as they don't support BDS too much. Here are the weasel words, so you can judge NIF's position for yourself:
NIF supports an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories as a central tenet of the strategic framework in which we operate. The tactics known as 'boycott, divestment and sanctions' (BDS) are designed to pressure Israel to end the occupation, but NIF believes these tactics to be unproductive, inflammatory and ineffective because of the difficulties in defining an approach that is not overly broad, does not delegitimize Israel and will achieve the long-term goal.
Although we will continue to communicate publicly and privately to our allies and grantees that NIF does not support BDS as a strategy or tactic, we will not reduce or eliminate our funding for grantees that differ with us on a tactical matter. NIF will not fund BDS activities nor support organizations for which BDS is a substantial element of their activities, but will support organizations that conform to our grant requirements if their support for BDS is incidental or subsidiary to their significant programs.
The way I read this, the NIF does not support the attempt by anti-Israel activists to turn the world's only Jewish country into a pariah state, and Jews into a target — once again — of a broad-based economic boycott. Except when it does, a little. It would seem that if the New Israel Fund believes BDS to be immoral, then it would defund grantees that support BDS, even incidentally. This is one of those bright-line issues, and if NIF wants to get on the wrong side of that line, it should not call itself a pro-Israel organization.
Jeff is absolutely right to say that supporting BDS under any circumstances is incompatible with defining oneself as pro-Israel. After all, can you imagine a foundation dedicated to civil rights supporting grantees whose advocacy of separate lunch counters was deemed "incidental?"
There is, however, a more fundamental point concerning NIF's characterization of BDS as a "tactical matter," the aim of which is to secure an end to the "occupation" - a term which NIF understands as referring to those territories under Israeli control since the 1967 war. In fact, the polar opposite is true. BDS is the tangible expression of an ideology which holds that Israel itself has no moral or legal foundation. And this is something understood on left and right. J Street, commendably, sums it up rather well:
J Street strongly opposes views and positions such as those captured at the Palestinian BDS National Committee's website, www.bdsmovement.net, because, among other reasons, they fail explicitly to recognize Israel's right to exist and they ignore or reject Israel's role as a national home for the Jewish people. In addition, the promotion by some in the BDS Movement of the 'return' to Israel of Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their families indicates support for an outcome incompatible with our vision of Israel and incompatible with a two-state solution to the conflict.
For the BDS movement, the original sin crystallized in 1948, not 1967. Those who push for BDS are advocating the same eliminationist strategy embodied in the Arab League's 1945 declaration of a boycott of "Jewish" and "Zionist" goods.
Whether waged by states or by NGOs, BDS is a form of economic warfare which has, so far, been as spectacular a failure as the parallel attempts by Arab armies to defeat Israel on the battlefield. That doesn't, however, make it any more acceptable for an entity called the New Israel Fund to provide support to those who believe Israel shouldn't be there in the first place.