Rimon is a fantastic caterer. She has turned her talent at Kurdish-style cooking into a business through the help of Ahoti (My Sister), an organization that works with Israeli women from mizrahi (Middle Eastern) backgrounds to develop their economic potential. Ahoti is a grantee of the New Israel Fund.
I mention this because a couple of days after I enjoyed Rimon’s cuisine, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar spoke at the convention of Im Tirtzu. Prime Minister Netanyahu couldn’t make it because he was on his way to humiliate himself in Washington, but he sent his written greetings to be read to the crowd.
Im Tirtzu, you may remember, is the organization that recently launched a smear campaign against the New Israel Fund. A so-called study by Im Tirtzu alleged that the NIF-backed organizations provided an overwhelming share of the material from Israeli sources that was cited in the Goldstone Report on the fighting in Gaza the winter before last.
As I wrote last month, Im Tirtzu leader Ronen Shoval revealed himself as a McCarthyite caught in a time warp when I interviewed him.
Speaking with me by phone, Shoval explained what he regards as the connections: “What we see as 16 separate groups are really the different hands of the same body, which instigates and directs them … to incite against IDF soldiers and Israel.” The various “hands” of the NIF, he claimed, are deliberately “aiding Hamas in its war against Israel” by making soldiers fear to fight. “The purpose of the New Israel Fund is to dismantle Israel as a Jewish state,” he told me, and the human-rights terminology of groups it supports “serves Communist interests.”
The Im Tirtzu report acknowledges that the NIF also funds numerous social and educational groups, some of which work with government ministries, the Jewish Agency and Birthright. The point of those activities, it says, is to “allow [the NIF] public legitimacy.” They’re really just front groups.
This is classic political paranoia: For Shoval et al, the only possible explanation for criticism voiced by human rights groups is that those organizations are out to “dismantle” Israel. All the groups are tentacles of one conspiracy, which not only wants to weaken our army but also “serves Communist interests.” The Im Tirtzu approach to criticism is to try to silent the critics.
I’m not going to list all the distortions in the Im Tirtzu report; Pesah is coming and I don’t have time for encyclopedic blog posts. Among other things, the statistics in the report are kookie, and it claims that the NIF funds some organizations to which it doesn’t give money. If you want more info, you can read the NIF response.
Back to Rimon’s cooking for a moment. One of my classes from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism toured Israel to learn how to report on the many faces of religion here. On Friday night, the class attended Shabbat services at a Syrian synagogue in the Nahlaot neighborhood, then had a Rimon-catered dinner at a nearby Kurdish synagogue. Drori Yehoshua, the religious educator who set up the evening, pointed out to me that helping Rimon start her business fits Maimonides’ classic definition of the highest level of tzedakah: to help someone “by giving him a present or loan, or making a partnership with him, or finding him a job in order to strengthen his hand until he needs no longer [beg from] people.”
Yehoshua is an activist in Memizrach Shemesh, another NIF grantee, which promotes activism based on Jewish values of social justice. But I suppose that from another perspective, the whole idea of tzedakah – which translates as “justice,” not “charity” – might “serve Communist interests.”
One might want to dismiss the Im Tirtzu attack on the NIF as the effort of one self-deluded rightist organization. For the record, I’d like to note the minister of education showed up at that organization’s convention to praise it for defending Zionism, and the prime minister sent his greetings. It’s witch-hunt season, and the government has granted a license to the blind hunters.