Jewish groups signal new interest in Gaza aid after fatal strike on food volunteers

New Israel Fund launches fundraiser to direct resources to World Central Kitchen, whose workers were killed in mistaken IAF airstrike, and to the International Rescue Committee

A man carries a cardboard box of food aid provided by World Central Kitchen in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
A man carries a cardboard box of food aid provided by World Central Kitchen in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The New Israel Fund opened its latest fundraising pitch Wednesday with a Passover-themed plea: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

The reference to the upcoming holiday was not the only way the appeal was topical. The US-based nonprofit, which funds a variety of progressive organizations in Israel, was, for the first time, raising money to help aid groups distribute food and other supplies in the Gaza Strip. The recipients of the funding will include World Central Kitchen, the target of last week’s fatal Israeli military strike that has drawn widespread international criticism.

The fundraiser comes as a range of Jewish groups are having a public conversation about the challenges surrounding Gaza aid following the strike on the WCK convoy. The bombing, which killed seven aid workers, has led to increased pressure on Israel from both the US and international bodies to do more to prevent starvation and a humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave. In response, Israel has increased aid delivery to Gaza but also accuses Hamas of looting the supplies for its own use, depriving Gazans of resources. Global health groups say the enclave faces the threat of famine.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are on the brink of famine,” Daniel Sokatch, NIF CEO, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about why his group launched the fundraiser. “We believe we have a moral obligation to help feed them.”

Sokatch added that the group’s position on the war itself has not changed: NIF, together with a coalition of other progressive Israel-focused groups, supports a ceasefire and return of the hostages Hamas is holding in Gaza. It also calls for a “resumption of genuine effort in pursuit of diplomatic and political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

War erupted on October 7 when the Palestinian terror group led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Thousands of Hamas-led terrorists who burst into southern Israel also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages to Gaza.

Palestinians walk through the destruction in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, April 8, 2024 (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas and free the hostages, of whom 129 remain in captivity, some believed no longer alive.

While international groups have taken Israel to task for the shortfall of aid in Gaza, and some Israeli protesters have blocked aid convoys saying supplies should be conditioned on the release of the hostages, many American Jewish groups have not criticized Israel directly over the humanitarian crisis. A few Jewish groups on the left, including J Street and T’ruah, have taken firmer positions calling for Israel to do more to deliver aid.

The NIF is not the only Jewish group taking a new approach to Gaza aid. On a webinar Wednesday, a senior leader at the American Jewish Committee had a conversation with David Satterfield, the US Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, who was appointed after October 7 as the State Department’s point person on the distribution of Gaza aid.

AJC’s statement mourning the WCK strike condemned Hamas and praised the steps Israel took in response. On Wednesday’s call, the group’s representatives sought to convey concern about Gaza aid while also expressing support for Israel.

Satterfield faced sometimes pointed questioning from AJC Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer Jason Isaacson about Israel’s responsibility to deliver aid when Hamas remains entrenched in parts of Gaza. Satterfield said Israel does have a responsibility under international law, and that it also hasn’t been doing enough.

“The humanitarian element has lagged. Not enough has been done. And much much more is required here,” Satterfield said. He also said Gaza truly is on the brink of famine, contradicting some pro-Israel advocates, mostly on the right, who have said reports of widespread food shortages are overstated.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way along a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 10, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

“There is an imminent risk of starvation for the majority, if not all, of the 2.2 million population of Gaza. This is not a point in debate. It is an established fact,” he said. He added that Israel’s plans to invade the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, which have been the subject of intense debate between the US and Israel, could lead to “disastrous” consequences for the more than a million Palestinians sheltering there.

In response to the WCK strike, which sparked global outrage, Israel has increased the number of aid trucks entering Gaza. The Israeli military has dismissed two officers over the bombing, which it called a tragic mistake.

The NIF says it will redirect all funds raised in its efforts to the WCK and the International Rescue Committee, a global aid group based in New York.

Neither organization is headquartered in Israel, where the fund has historically directed most of its funding. The causes it supports include efforts to preserve democracy, boost minority populations, and oppose the settler movement and Israel’s control over the West Bank. Sokatch said the Gaza aid effort fits into the NIF’s mission to advance the “Jewish value” of feeding people who are hungry.

“We cannot sit idly by as a man-made humanitarian crisis knocks at Gaza’s door,” he said. “Jewish memory and tradition demand that we provide food aid to innocents.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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