By Edwin Black
The controversial New Israel Fund and its social change and political lobbying organization – known as SHATIL – have received more than $1 million from the State Department under a program designed to create political change, reform, and activism in the Middle East. The government program, Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), has extended more than $600 million in grants to political and social activists and reformers in 18 Middle East countries, mainly with unstable or challenged political environments in need of democratic improvement. ”
MEPI supports organizations and individuals in their efforts to promote political, economic, and social reform in the Middle East and North Africa,” according to the agency’s official self-description.
The list of nations in which MEPI operates includes such countries as Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, and Yemen.
However, MEPI’s sphere of engagement also includes Israel – ironically the only pluralistic, stable, and democratic nation in the Mideast. Among the leading recipients for MEPI grants in Israel is the New Israel Fund and its SHATIL organization. The NIF is an international, US-based 501(c)(3) charitable organization that has generated intense acrimony within the Jewish community and Israeli establishment for its highly politicized activities.
While MEPI’s involvement with the New Israel Fund has been previously reported in print and online, the million-dollar nature of the partnership has not emerged until now.
Vocal critics in both the U.S. and Israel charge that the New Israel Fund has knowingly financed groups that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, and worked to get Israeli soldiers prosecuted for so-called ‘war crimes.” Benny Yanay of an Israeli military organization called Consensus, representing some 3,000 members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), stated, “The New Israel Fund acts against Israel-against the soldiers of our country. It is supported by foreign governments and organizations so that Israeli soldiers will be weakened.” Other Israel military men and women have alleged that the NIF is trying to “destabilize the IDF.”
Knesset Deputy Speaker Yoni Chetboun added that the NIF was bent on “erasing the Jewish identity from the Jewish State.” Chetboun adds that through its SHATIL subsidiary, NIF represents the biggest left-wing political lobby in Israel.
In February 2015, spokesmen for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s nationalist Jewish Home party both derided the NIF as “anti-Zionist.” Both political parties cancelled participation in a Haaretz newspaper conference when they learned NIF was a sponsor. The Jewish Home party was quoted in the Jerusalem Post stating, “We will not take part in a conference in which an anti-Zionist organization that invests all its time and money in harming IDF soldiers and the State of Israel as a Jewish State is involved.”
The New Israel Fund has vehemently and repeatedly denied the many accusations, insisting it just wants to change Israel for the better into a more democratic society.
The newly examined State Department funding projects play into the growing Israeli complaint that the State Department is actively supporting political upheaval in the forthcoming elections – and therefore interfering in Israel’s voting process.
The State Department made four financial grants to the NIF in 2009 and 2011, according to State Department records accessed by this reporter. The first multi-year grant began on September 22, 2009, listed in the name of both the New Israel Fund and SHATIL, for $505,805. The grant description states, “Award will promote the rights, increase the participation and advance that status of women in the Bedouin community and strengthen their organizations.” But crosschecking the actual Federal Award ID SNEAPI09CA286, the project description is merely “amendment changes the Project Officer for this AWARD.” One such NIF Bedouin event was officiated by Jill Biden, wife of vice president Joe Biden.
Testimonials on the SHATIL website state the program demonstrates “how the Bedouin can influence government policy and [sic] at demonstrations.” The testimonials include Bedouin women extolling the MEPI program, with one woman quoted as saying that she is now determined to be “liberated from all forms of oppression.” Bedouin women have long been overlooked in rising Arab expectations and social advancement.
The second multi-year grant is for $370,000, beginning September 20, 2011, and listing the formal recipient as SHATIL under Federal Aid ID SNEAPI11CA349. The program description reads, “the New Israel Fund-SHATIL will implement a project entitled ‘MEPI Alumni Network Local Chapter for Israel,’ which works with MEPI alumni in Israel.”
By way of information, the MEPI Alumni are an international cadre of activists located throughout various Middle East countries, as well as Gaza and the West Bank. The NIF-SHATIL program created a chapter in Israel. The SHATIL website describes the program as follows: “Participants there included young people university graduates, who launched new groups to advance social change in their towns following the Arab Spring as well as members of the Popular Committees in several Arab towns, local government representatives and unaffiliated activists.”
The so-called “Popular Committees” are a loose affiliation of Palestinian resistance and protest groups located across the West Bank. A Quaker website explains: “The popular committees organized strikes, protests, political activism, and provided social safety nets that helped meet the basic needs of the population.”
The full MEPI Alumni Network of more than 11,000 activists is “contributing to the historic changes taking place in the Middle East,” according to a State Department program description. Its network of activists stretches from Yemen to Jordan to Israel. The SHATIL website describes its Israeli portion of this international network as more than 120 individuals who form “an active cadre of linked civil society and private sector advocates.”
The third multi-year grant, this one for $149,999, was extended under the same Federal Aid ID SNEAPI09CA286 for Bedouin women activism, beginning in March 3, 2011, once again listing both New Israel Fund-SHATIL as recipients. It is described in U.S. State Department records simply as, “Amendment changes the Project Officer for this award.”
A fourth award to New Israel Fund-SHATIL is listed in State Department files, once again under the Bedouin activism project SNEAPI09CA286, to commence on June 3, 2011. But records show zero dollars transacted, probably due to a paperwork update or transaction.
The total of all three grants is $1,025,805 (also listed in U.S. State Department records, with a one-dollar discrepancy, as $1,025,804).
A State Department spokesman, at press time, stated he was unable to immediately gather the information needed to explain the grants, but promised to do so later. A press query to the New Israel Fund about the MEPI programs elicited an email response by NIF vice president of Public Affairs Naomi Paiss. Paiss directed the inquiry to the SHATIL website, both English and Hebrew versions, adding, “We are not providing any additional information to you.”