The witch hunt of Naomi Chazan.
Almost a year ago, Chazan--a former deputy speaker of the Knesset, former head of the Hebrew University's Truman Institute, professor emerita at Hebrew University and longtime women's rights activist--was in New York on NIF business when a smear campaign was launched against her in Israel. Suddenly, her face appeared on billboards all over the country, on major bridges in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and in ads in The Jerusalem Post and on all major Jewish news websites. More precisely, it was a cartoon image of her face that rivaled the Nazis' worst anti-Semitic illustrations.
It depicted her as a satanic figure with a hooked nose and a horn sprouting from her forehead that said "N.I.F" The headline identified her as "Naomi Goldstone-Hazan (sic)"--a reference to Judge Richard Goldstone, the author of the U.N. Human Rights Commission Report that found evidence of illegal acts by both Hamas fighters and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the Gaza War of 2008-09. The ad contained wild-eyed claims such as, "Without the New Israel Fund, there could be no Goldstone Report, and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes " and "Naomi Hazan's fund is behind 90 percent of the Goldstone war crimes allegations from non-official Israeli sources."
The campaign was the handiwork of a new organization called Im Tirtzu (Hebrew for "If you will it," a play on Theodor Herzrs famous Zionist motto). Im Tirtzu is one of several radical right groups that are trying to alter political discourse in Israel by stigmatizing and isolating progressive groups. Although it tries hard to pass itself off as centrist, Im Tirtzu's actions say otherwise. It has conducted three public campaigns in the last year--against Goldstone; against NIF and other groups for allegedly supporting "universal jurisdiction," which would allow international courts to prosecute senior Israeli officers; and against academic political science departments (most notably that of Ben-Gurion University) for their supposed "anti-Israel" bias.
Im Tirtzu had previously used words like "fifth column," "traitors" and "Israel haters" to describe NIF and had accused the organization of "training lawyers to charge Israel with war crimes." It accused the group of awarding grants to organizations whose aim was to harm, criticize and delegitimize Israel. Now their attack was up close and personal. They referred to NIF as "Naomi's fund." Their henchmen demonstrated outside her home-She required a bodyguard. One of the group's most prominent activists gave a talk in Arabic in which he "thanked" her on behalf of Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader, for her "assistance" to his terrorist organization.
These inflammatory assaults almost instantly reverberated with sympathetic factions in the Knesset. A subcommittee was charged with investigating NIF and its grantees. Legislation was proposed that would have hobbled the ability of NIF and all human rights organizations to raise money abroad if one of their grantees said or did something perceived to be even vaguely anti-Israel. The bill was defeated by an active lobbying effort, but it was another close call for Israeli democracy and human rights.
Unbowed by the witch hunt, NIF continues to fight against those who, in their fever to protect Israel's image, would defame, undermine or destroy Israeli human rights groups. It funds groups that any Jew with a conscience would want supported--groups that aid the one-third of all Israeli children who live below the poverty line, as well as Ethiopian immigrants, Bedouin children, survivors of domestic violence, victims of sex trade trafficking--groups, in short, that advance social and economic justice. Chazan continues to speak out on issues about which she has always been passionate: defending Israeli democracy against erosion, advancing gender equality and religious pluralism, promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and ending the occupation.
Some say an activist's success can be measured by the fervor of her opponents' resistance, which is another way of saying that Naomi Chazan's life isn't always a walk in the park. In granting her its Raphael Lemkin Award (named for an international lawyer who devoted his life to the prevention of genocide), Rabbis for Human Rights acknowledged the connection between one generation's quintessential advocate for justice and another. NIF continues to pursue justice, and Naomi Chazan walks with grace in Lemkin's footsteps.
She was in New York when a smear campaign was launched against her. Suddenly, her face appeared on billboards and in ads all over Israel. More precisely, it was a cartoon image of her face that rivaled the Nazis' worst anti-Semitic illustrations.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin is at work on her tenth book, How To Be A Friend To A Friend Who's Sick. She has been a Moment columnist for twenty years.