New Israel Fund sees huge leap in donations after attack by PM

Israelis give NGO almost half a million shekels after Netanyahu accuses it of pressuring Rwanda to scrap a deal to take in asylum seekers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coughing while addressing an annual health conference in Tel Aviv on March 27, 2018.  (AFP / JACK GUEZ)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coughing while addressing an annual health conference in Tel Aviv on March 27, 2018. (AFP / JACK GUEZ)

The New Israel Fund said Friday that it has seen a major boost in donations after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusations that the left-wing NGO pressured Rwanda to refuse to resettle African migrants whom the Israeli government wants to deport.

The group said 2,000 Israelis had donated over NIS 450,000 ($127,476) in 48 hours.

Ninety-five percent of the contributions were from first-time patrons, according to the NIF.

“We’ve been truly touched by the overwhelming outpouring of support NIF has received from Israelis in the face of the Prime Minister’s attacks on NIF and Israeli democracy,” NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch said.

Dozens of people who posted their donations on Facebook said they made them “in honor of Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

On Tuesday, Netanyahu published a Facebook post in which he claimed it was the NIF’s pressure on Rwanda that forced him to seek other solutions for tens of thousands of asylum seekers Israel is seeking to deport.

The premier provided no proof of the NGO’s involvement in Rwanda’s alleged scrapping of its agreement with Israel, which led to a new short-lived agreement with the UN’s refugee agency. A spokesman for Rwanda’s government denied having had any deal with Israel to scrap and said it had never heard of the NIF.

The NIF has said it is considering taking legal action against Netanyahu over the allegations.

Among the 1,500 donors were members of Knesset including Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, along with the Zionist Union’s Shelly Yachimovich and Miki Rosenthal, who each proudly posted about their contributions.

“Every donation will be invested in strengthening civil society in Israel and will help us in the struggle against the expulsion of refugees and to strengthen south Tel Aviv,” NIF Executive Director Mickey Gitzin said.

Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, at his office in Jerusalem, June 4, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

After making his claim about NIF, Netanyahu declared that he was seeking to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the activities of the group, which provides funding to hundreds of civil-society groups in Israel.

Echoing remarks he has made in the past about the NGO, the prime minister 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,” he continued.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announce a new refugee deal with the UN, hours before suspending it, April 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The NIF firmly denied the allegation. Sokatch said in a statement: “The New Israel Fund did not pressure the Rwandan government to refuse to participate in Netanyahu’s cruel mass deportation plan. We did support massive numbers of Israelis standing up for what is right and demanding action from their own government.”

Israel is seeking to deport some 40,000 African migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, and is pushing a controversial plan that will see them sent to a third country or jailed if they refuse.

On Monday, Israel’s government announced a deal with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to replace the one supposedly scrapped with Rwanda, which would see thousands of African migrants given temporary status in Israel and others deported to developed Western countries.

But in a dramatic about-face, Netanyahu declared Monday night that he was freezing the arrangement amid fierce criticism from parts of his right-wing base.

African asylum seekers set up a mock slave auction as part of a protest against their deportation outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv,, on April 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s previous deportation policy, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the UN as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.

The Supreme Court froze the deportations in mid-March in response to a petition from a slew of rights groups.

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