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Jewish Journal

New Israel Fund opening Australian branch

JTA

May 11, 2011 | 10:14 am

The New Israel Fund has opened a branch in Australia, sparking renewed debate about the pluralist, human rights organization.

NIF, which has raised in excess of $200 million for more than 800 NGOs in Israel since 1979, will be led by Sydney-based barrister Robin Margo, who was president of the Jewish community in New South Wales between 2008 and 2010.

Margo, who acted for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry in its long-running legal battle against Holocaust denier Fredrick Töben, said in a statement Monday announcing the formation of the organization: “NIF strives to promote the vision of Zionism that is contained, indeed promised, in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, namely ‘equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.’”

But critics have been quick to accuse the organization of supporting groups that seek to delegitimize Israel.

In a letter published in last week’s Australian Jewish News, Dr. Gerald Steinberg, of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, wrote that NIF funds “political groups that promote BDS, demonization and the discredited Goldstone report.”

The advent of NIF in Australia comes a year after the last-minute cancellation of a visit here by NIF president Naomi Chazan, following a controversial campaign by the right-wing student organization Im Tirzu, which alleged that “without the New Israel Fund there could be no Goldstone report and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes.”

NIF rebuffed the accusations as baseless.

“Attempts by some in Australia and overseas to denigrate the NIF have failed to dent the enthusiasm we are seeing for the establishment of NIF in this country,” Margo said.

The Australian branch will be officially launched in June by Chazan, who is also speaking at the Limmud conference in Sydney.

NIF also has branches in America, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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