NIF director put on defensive during panel discussion
March 13, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
Jay Brodbar, executive director, New Israel Fund (NIF) of Canada (centre), spent most of the night defending NIF against criticism raised by Anita Bromberg, national director of legal affairs, B’nai Brith Canada. Paul Michaels, director of research and media relations, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), avoided criticizing NIF, other than to question its lack of a focus on external threats to Israel.
TORONTO – The New Israel Fund was in the hot seat last week during a panel discussion on different ways of showing support for Israel.
The panel discussion, Wherever We Stand, We Stand With Israel, featured Anita Bromberg, national director of legal affairs, B’nai Brith Canada; Paul Michaels, director of research and media relations, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA); and Jay Brodbar, executive director, New Israel Fund (NIF) of Canada. The event was hosted by Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto and moderated by its Rabbi Michael Dolgin.
The panelists first introduced themselves and spoke about their personal and professional connections to Israel. They spent the rest of the event responding to questions posed by Rabbi Dolgin and audience members about the work each organization is doing to strengthen the Zionist cause.
In her introductory remarks, Bromberg said she disagreed with the approach taken by NIF when, for example, it has funded organizations that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“B’nai Brith draws a red line in the sand,” said Bromberg. “BDS is a destructive force and...supporting it means the destruction of the state of Israel.”
In response to Rabbi Dolgin’s question about each organization’s greatest strengths and challenges, Bromberg said that B’nai Brith’s greatest strength is its “unwavering support for the Jewish state of Israel [and] our willingness to speak out and face criticism.” On the other hand, she said, “the challenge that B’nai Brith faces is organizations that are wavering in that support and the New Israel Fund, for me, is an example.”
Bromberg quoted a statement by the NIF: “‘We do not fund organizations with global BDS programs... although organizations involved in specific boycotts of settlement services are not disqualified from funding.’” Bromberg added, “To me, that’s as wavering a statement as you get.”
Brodbar said he represented the New Israel Fund of Canada but was proud to be a part of the New Israel Fund family. In NIF’s defence, he said, “Sometimes we confuse strength with rigidity. Our support of Israel is steadfast but that’s not the same thing as being rigid and sometimes you have to understand the entire context and try to work in different ways... Things are not so black and white.”
Bromberg quoted criticism of NIF by Caroline Glick and Gerald Steinberg, which Brodbar dismissed with, “Caroline Glick and Gerald Steinberg are people with very, very specific points of view, specific views that are right wing – they would say so themselves – and you have to understand the source.”
Brodbar said Jewish organizations that agree on the need for a safe and secure, pluralistic, just, and democratic Israel, may disagree on the best ways of accomplishing that goal but that was just a difference in tactics. “Differences,” said Brodbar, “that should not question our loyalty, our love and our concern for Israel, that we treasure and can be proud of; differences on the way to get there.”
CIJA’s Michaels did not weigh in much during the debate, but did say, “There are great threats that Israel faces that we really need to pay attention to...including Iran.... It’s not the issue of disagreement. Israel is a very vibrant democracy: they’re debating about everything all the time. Before, I talked about a red line in terms of recognizing...the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. Within that, there are a whole range of debates going on.”