Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Takes All Kinds

On March 22, 2006, Oded Haklai presented a paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association in San Diego, California. It was entitled: "Why Diaspora Jewish NGOs Donate to Palestinian Social Movements in Israel".

The Abstract:

In recent years, Diaspora Jewish organizations have been increasingly providing financial support to Palestinian social movements and NGOs in Israel. This phenomenon is particularly puzzling because it occurs during a period of heightened Palestinian-Israeli tensions and it involves large organizations from the mainstream of the Diaspora Jewish establishment, such as the New Israel Fund (NIF), the American Jewish Welfare Society (JDC), the Lurie Foundation, and the Abraham Fund initiatives.

Furthermore, several of the recipients are strong critics of the Jewish character of the state and its Zionist ideology. Both studies of the international dimension of ethnic conflict and Diaspora studies typically focus on the ways in which Diaspora communities assist their co-nationals. Conventional theories are silent on the reasons why a Diaspora would assist the "other".

The study explores a number of possible explanations. The first explanation is normative. The argument here is that the donors believe the Jewish state should adopt or enhance a more liberal character, rather than an ethnonational one. Another possible explanation is rational, interest-based. The argument here is that by providing financial support to Palestinian NGOs, the Jewish donors create a relationship of patronage whereby the recipients become dependent on the donors and, subsequently, their criticism of the Jewish-Zionist character of the state is softened.

A third explanation pertains to the image the donor community has of itself and questions regarding its own political identity. Traditionally, the Diaspora Jewish community, particularly in the United States, has had liberal leanings. Its financial support of Palestinian NGOs, according to the third explanation, is in response to growing criticism levelled at the Jewish establishment from the left-of-centre for its perceived blanket support of Israel. The Jewish community is thus caught between what are perceived as tension-laden tendencies: its concomitant commitment to both liberal and ethnonational ideologies.

Relying on dozens of interviews conducted with members of various donor organizations and Palestinian NGOs activists in Israel, the paper evaluates each of these explanations.

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