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New Israel Fund mulls legal action against PM for ‘unprecedented lies’

After Netanyahu claims NGO pressured Rwanda to refuse African migrants deported from Israel, right-wing Im Tirzu brands it an enemy of state in vicious video

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

New Israel Fund Israel Executive Director Mickey Gitzin. (YouTube screenshot)
New Israel Fund Israel Executive Director Mickey Gitzin. (YouTube screenshot)

The New Israel Fund is considering legal action against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he accused it of pressuring Rwanda to refuse to resettle African migrants whom the Israeli government wants to deport.

The news came as a far-right organization issued a video clip contrasting a fictive Israeli soldier — “one of us” — with the NIF’s president Talia Sasson, head of “a foreign political organization which just pretends to be Israeli — not one of us.”

On Tuesday, the day after he had announced a deal with the UN refugee agency on the African asylum seekers — and then, hours later, suspended the agreement — Netanyahu wrote on Facebook that he had instructed coalition head David Amsalem to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the NIF.

“In recent weeks, amid enormous pressure on Rwanda by the New Israel Fund and sources in the European Union, Rwanda has withdrawn from the agreement and refused to accept infiltrators from Israel that were forcibly deported,” he charged.

Echoing remarks he has made in the past about the NGO, he called the NIF a “foreign organization which receives funding from foreign governments and bodies that are hostile to Israel, such as the foundations of [the Hungarian-born Jewish American liberal philanthropist] George Soros. The primary aim of the NIF is to erase the Jewish nature of Israel and to turn it into a state of all its citizens next to a Palestinian state without any Jews on the 1967 border with its capital as Jerusalem.”

George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundation, waits for the start of a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on April 27, 2017. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

Netanyahu claimed the NIF had funded anti-Zionist organizations for decades, including NGOs that “campaigned for Palestinian terrorists” and that it “endangered the security and future” of Israel as Jewish state.

Referring to earlier government plans to deport tens of thousands of African migrants in Israel illegally, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan, to Rwanda and Uganda, the premier provided no proof of the left-wing NGO’s involvement in Rwanda’s alleged scrapping of its alleged agreement with Israel.

Mickey Gitzin, executive director of the New Israel Fund, hit back Wednesday, telling the Ynet news site that Netanyahu’s attack was an attempt to “distract the public’s attention away from his failure and to terrorize organizations such as ours to make us fearful.

Gitzin said Netanyahu’s tendency to “incite” had revealed itself in the past, for example when, during the last election, he claimed that Arab voters were coming in droves to the ballot boxes, arriving in buses commissioned by left-wing NGOs.

“We’ve seen him dividing Israeli society, but this time he is lying to an unprecedented degree and we’re examining legally whether we can sue him for slander.”

Gitzin said the New Israel Fund had never been in contact with the Rwandan government, nor had any of the organizations it funded.

In this Tuesday, April 3, 2018 photo, Eritrean Halofom Sulta sits under a banner “South Tel Aviv against deportation” after speaking to the Associated Press in southern Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

It had acted to fight the deportation, providing grants to civil society NGOs such as “South Tel Aviv Against Deportation” and helping to advise anti-deportation bodies through its implementation arm, Shatil.

Asserting that the NIF was “effective, significant, knows how to act and is not afraid,” Gitzin said, “Our worldview is clear and opposes the deportation of refugees. We have acted and will continue to act on this issue.”

He added, “Israeli society values ​​our steadfast stand and understands that we have fallen victim to spin.”

The prime minister, after zigzagging on the deportations, “suddenly realized he had a problem with his political base and chose the most despicable way [to deal with it],” Gitzin charged.

Wednesday also saw the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu releasing a new video clip advising NIF President Talia Sasson to “get out”of Israel.

It contrasts an imaginary soldier, Yotam, who defends Israel, with the NIF, which it charges funds bodies that work against the state.

Screenshot from a video clip produced for the right-wing Im Tirzu organization, comparing the president of the New Israel Fund, Talia Sasson (left), “not one of us,” with an Israeli soldier, who is “one of us,” April 4, 2018.

Yotam wants to protect Talia, but the NIF is not really interested in protecting him, the video says, because while he is fighting terrorists in Gaza, the NGO is funding bodies which accuse the Israeli army of war crimes.

Yotam’s girlfriend Michal lives in South Tel Aviv and is frightened to leave her house at night because of of the “thousands of violent infiltrators” who have taken over the area and sown fear among residents. It is the NIF which is preventing the deportation of these infiltrators to a third country, the video asserts.

The clip goes on to accuse the NIF of inciting Bedouin in the Negev desert against the state and of fostering hatred of Israelis abroad.

It claims the organization has transferred NIS 309 million ($87 million) over recent years to organizations acting against the Israeli military and the Jewish state.

“Leave Yotam alone,” it concludes. “Leave all of us alone… Talia, the people of Israel ask you to get out.”

Talia Sasson (photo credit: CC-BY-ND Ralph Alswang/Flickr)
Talia Sasson (photo credit: CC-BY-ND Ralph Alswang/Flickr)

Previous Im Tirzu campaigns have targeted Israeli artists and performers associated with left-wing organizations and accused leading figures from Israel’s left-wing human rights organizations in a video clip of being “moles” operated by foreign countries to sabotage Israel’s counter-terror efforts.

The NIF reacted to the latest video clip with a statement saying, “The hands are those of Im Tirzu but the voice is that of Prime Minister Netanyahu. There is no limit to the moral low level of Im Tirzu.”

Referring to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995, the statement added, “Israel society has already known political murder after a campaign of incitement and Im Tirzu are leading us there.”

The NIF expected the entire political spectrum to denounce Im Tirzu, the statement concluded.

Gitzin told Hadashot News that he felt in mortal danger. It was time to outlaw Im Tirzu, he said.

Netanyahu’s call for a parliamentary inquiry into the New Israel Fund is unlikely to gain any traction.

In October, the Knesset’s chief legal adviser threw cold water on a cabinet decision to probe the funding Israeli NGOs receive from foreign governments, saying that the move was “politically motivated” and therefore unfit for treatment by a parliamentary inquiry committee.

“After examining the subject, I believe the issue cannot become a matter of a parliamentary inquiry, and efforts to limit the possibility of nonprofit organizations being funded by foreign countries for activities that express criticism of IDF soldiers should go through legislation,” Eyal Yinon wrote in a legal opinion presented to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

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