The New Israel Fund campaign launch for 2005 last night was quite a smart affair, set in the rather grand surroundings of the Royal Aeronautical Society. It kicked off with their campaign film, which showed the good work being done by many NIF partners. The film was impressive and reinforced my belief that NIF does a vital job in getting funds to grassroots and community-based organisations working to improve social and economic conditions in Israel. According to the website
NIF works in three areas: fighting for civil and human rights, promoting religious tolerance and pluralism, and closing the social and economic gaps in Israeli society
and they focus on self-help organisations to take the fight forward in these three areas. So that was good, and I think everyone should consider supporting them.
The speaker was a disappointment, though. They put up David Horowitz, the new editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. British by birth and obviously very bright, he was described to me by NIF people before the meeting as a new broom at the JP, which under Conrad Black has swung far far to the right. Now with Black disgraced and the JP under new ownership, there’s a chance to remake its image. Unfortunately, to judge by Horowitz’s talk the change is unlikely to be very exciting. Although he didn’t come over as a party loyalist, his politics seemed to be firmly in the Israeli centre-right. For me, the key to his talk was his observation that the root of the problem is terrorism. I don’t expect much useful insight from someone who starts from that point, and I didn’t get it. Well, maybe one useful point: that a key element of stiffening Israeli opinion in the second intifada has been the attacks against civilians inside the 1948 borders. The attack on Maxim’s, the Haifa restaurant that was such an great example of coexistence in action, seems to carry a message to Israelis that the attackers consider everyone in Israel a combatant to be defeated. But condemning attacks like that is far from the same as saying that terrorism is the starting-point for understanding the conflict.
More interesting than the speaker was the response from the audience, which wasn’t sympathetic to his viewpoint. Most interesting of all were the ex-IDF people who often appear at meetings like this. If they have served in the Territories, what they usually say is how dehumanising they found it, and how damaging is the situation of power that teenage soldiers have over all aspects of the life of ordinary Palestinians. That’s what the ex-soldiers in the audience said last night.