Like every person who reads the Jewish Forward, I received an email solicitation on April 1, 2010, from Daniel Sokatch, chief executive officer of the New Israel Fund (NIF). If I want to save Israeli democracy from the threat of the ultra-orthodox and the settlers, the solicitation informs me, I should sign an email petition for Prime Minister Netanyahu.
No, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, and I immediately thought about who would save Israel from Daniel Sokatch and the NIF.
The NIF and the NGOs it funds are under attack in the Israeli Knesset. Sokatch wants American Jews to pressure the Israeli government to call off its investigation of the relationship between the NIF‘s NGO recipients and the infamous Goldstone Report. This is an uphill struggle for NIF, since the loudest calls for investigation are from Kadima, the Israeli centrist party.
As someone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and has experienced firsthand the effects of Sokatch’s work here as the former CEO of the Jewish Community Federation, I strongly believe most of the members of this Jewish community would eagerly sign a petition that would encourage the Israeli government to pursue its investigation with all deliberate speed. If NIF is innocent of the accusations made against it, let it be exonerated within the democratic process it supports.
Sokatch was hired as CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation because some community leaders believed that a person with an ultra-progressive agenda could mobilize donors who shared his views. These community leaders also believed that exposure to the real world of pluralistic community politics would mature a person with well-honed leadership skills who was perceived as highly intelligent and talented, but politically naive.
None of that happened. There really aren’t a lot of George Soroses out there, even in Berkeley, and people who spend their time railing against capitalism never seem to become terribly successful businessmen. But the biggest disappointment to some was that Sokatch, despite his obvious talents, seemed stuck in his ultra-progressive ideology.
Sokatch left his position at the Jewish Community Federation after only fourteen months. He might have been on his way to different pastures anyhow, but what seemed to seal his fate was last year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Directed by Peter Stein, a man with an Israel-bashing agenda sustained by a compliant board, the festival showcased the crudely crafted documentary Rachel — a piece of vicious anti-Israel propaganda. The film lionized Rachel Corrie, the International Solidarity Movement militant who recklessly got in the way of an Israeli bulldozer.
Stein malevolently added insult to injury by giving the stage to Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, who added to the propaganda value of the film and took a few softball questions from Stein that would have embarrassed even Larry King.
A substantial segment of the film’s audience was comprised of Israel-bashers who hurled anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic epithets at those who challenged the so-called “documentary.” Free speech did not escape the heckler’s veto that day.
Local Zionists demanded that the Jewish Community Federation, which contributes money to the film festival, do something about the outrage. Instead, Sokatch — who was also on the board of the festival — defended it.