About 250 of 350 registrants braved the record snowfall on Sunday, Feb. 12, to attend the New Israel Fund’s forum, “Israel beyond the current conflict: The challenge of a Jewish and democratic state,” at Columbia University. Their determination was perhaps emblematic of a resurgence in activism that is both liberal and pro-Israel, after a downturn in the recent aftermath of the second Intifada and the recession driven by the dot com bust which also began in 2000.
The New Israel Fund (NIF) dispenses grants to projects that advance a pluralistic vision of Israel as a society that is both meaningfully Jewish and inclusive of “all its citizens” — about 20 percent of whom are not Jews. Meretz USA shares these values, although we educate more on the political issues.
The NIF’s revenue stream has mostly been “flat” in the last few years in the range of “22 to 23 million dollars,” according to Marc Breslaw, its chief operating officer. Difficulties experienced by the NIF are not uncommon to Zionist and American Jewish organizations in general.
Not only are the challenges economic and political, but also generational. For younger generations of American Jews, the problem is not so much “disillusion” or being “embarrassed by Israeli behavior,” but “indifference,” according to Naomi Paiss, the NIF’s director of communications. As the generations age and pass on, fewer American Jews “know the importance of Israel from their gut.”
The philosophical bottomline for Ms. Paiss is that the New Israel Fund “doesn’t require the attitude of ‘Israel right or wrong.’ We are the way to be a good liberal, how to still listen to ‘Air America’ and still be a good Zionist.” (We, Meretz USA, are also “the way”; but I much prefer NPR to Air America.)
To be continued….