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Attack on New Israel Fund Charges It Brainwashes Orthodox Jews in Plot to Undermine Israel's Jewish Character.

By Haaretz

The New Israel Fund has long been demonized by Israel's political right for supporting groups like Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem, which oppose the occupation. Now the NIF's embattled image is being weaponized in another conflict -- the ongoing battle by the right wing of the national-religious camp against groups that promote tolerance and pluralism in Orthodox Judaism.

A new campaign entitled "Religious Zionism in the Crosshairs," launched by the NGO Chotam this week, portrays pluralism activists and those who advocate for women in the Orthodox community as "infiltrators" -- and part of a greater NIF conspiracy aimed at "erasing the State of Israel of any Jewish character and turning it into a state of all its citizens." The campaign aims to declare any individual or organization from the national-religious camp that receives NIF support as being unwelcome in the community, and says the Orthodox world should "break ties" with them.

At the centerpiece of the campaign is a provocative, two-minute animated video with the message: "Don't Let Talia's Workers Get Near Your Head: Orthodox Judaism Must Break Ties with the New Israel Fund." The video is set in "Talia's Beauty Shop," which features a sign, "We Will Make Over Your Head!" The proprietor: Talia Sasson, NIF president. It opens with a bride walking in. Sasson directs her to two of the shop's stylists -- identified as Dr. Hannah Kehat, founder of the Orthodox feminist group Kolech, and Batya Kahane-Dror, who heads the Mavoi Satum nonprofit, which assists agunot (women who have been refused a Jewish divorce).

Tending to the bride, they lecture her against an Orthodox wedding based on halakha (traditional Jewish law), and shove a civil partnership agreement in her hand. When they finish, she is transformed: no longer wearing a wedding gown, and with a veil, that's been replaced by sunglasses.

The next customer: a bat-mitzvah girl, who is sent to "stylist" Tehila Friedman, former head of Ne'emani Torah V'Avoda -- a group that "promotes the values of tolerance, equality, and justice in religious society" Friedman forces a kippah on the girl's head and a tallit on her shoulders, and encourages her to read from the Torah and wear tefillin at her ceremony.

A bar-mitzvah boy then walks into the salon and is sent to Rabbi Shai Piron, who served as Israel's education minister and whose former NGO received support from the NIF. Piron assures the boy that he can "have it all" ideologically: "You can learn about both the Nakba and the Israeli narrative, you can support same-sex marriage and say it's not a family." The boy leaves with a confused hairdo that is part punk-rock, part curls, partly shaved head. The Talia Sasson figure looks over approvingly, and says: "Those religious people know how to do good work."

The video closes with a fusion of the political and the religious: An Israel Defense Forces soldier walks into the shop. Sasson sneers and the staff argue over what to do with him. Avner Gvaryahu, executive director of Breaking the Silence, intervenes. "I'll take care of him and do exactly what you are doing," he says, boasting, "I have a lot of experience with soldiers."

Chotam, the advocacy organization behind the campaign, is headed by a group of rabbis and leaders from the right-wing Orthodox community -- and appears to have strong ties to Habayit Hayehudi, the political party headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett -- and the sources of its funding are not published on its website. The group's last high-profile public campaign was aimed at discouraging Orthodox girls from enlisting in the IDF, and also included an animated video.

The new campaign features imagery implying that religious Zionism is under violent attack from hostile forces. Its logo is a rifle's target trained on a soldier praying with tefillin, religious politicians, bearded rabbis and youth marching with Israeli flags.

The NIF's plan, according to Chotam, is to undermine the Jewish character of Israel by "weakening" Jewish institutions, to transform it into a "state of all of its citizens." Chotam claims that its campaign is "exposing" the liberal Orthodox groups' "whitewashing" of the fact that they receive grants from the NIF.

Even though none of the targeted organizations seems to have concealed the fact that they receive NIF support, Chotam charges that the "religious public is unaware that these groups are promoting a foreign agenda, and innocently identify them as coming out of their own religious community."

The NIF, which channels funds donated by its supporters to over 800 progressive causes in Israel, has repeatedly been characterized by politicians and advocacy groups on the right as actively seeking to undermine Israel's security, and attacks against it have intensified in recent years.
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Publication:Israel Faxx
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Aug 22, 2018
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