An open letter to Prof. Gerald Steinberg
December 8 2009
Prof. Gerald Steinberg
It was with great disappointment that I read your open letter to the New Israel Fund (NIF), posted on NGO Monitor’s website Monday morning. It demonstrates that you have not learned the lessons of the past two weeks. This is evident from the fact that, as I will outline below, you continue to misrepresent easily-verifiable facts and evade an honest debate of the issue at hand.
I do not know who your advisers are, but you deserve better. The world of political and policy communications has changed significantly over the past few years. It is no longer possible to launch set-piece campaigns, dependent on full control of sympathetic media. The internet has created a much more egalitarian public debate. Importantly from your perspective, veritable armies of bloggers and internet activists rush to check facts, research power structures and influence the media agenda. Negative campaigns, such as the one you recently launched with the Institute for Zionist Strategies are particularly vulnerable. All it takes is the exposure of a few inconsistencies and misrepresentations for the mainstream media to stay away. Trying to regain momentum can seem like herding cats, as the Republicans learned when they tried to use the “Swift Boat” tactics of 2004 in the campaigns of 2006 and 2008.
Your current campaign could have been designed to demonstrate what not to do in this new reality: (1) a negative agenda; (2) a patently partisan partner, with dubious standards and many skeletons in its closet; (3) close alliance with the executive branch; (4) a message frame — transparency — in which your organization’s performance, and that of its ideological allies, leaves much to be desired. You also failed to address the changing concerns of the Israeli public and its opinion makers. The supposed “threat to sovereignty” posed by a handful of law-abiding organizations does not seem very urgent when the country is facing an open rebellion against the rule of law.
Reading your letter to the NIF, one is astonished to see you repeating the same action, while expecting a different result. The easily verifiable fact is that the organizations your conference targeted did not refuse to debate the issue, they simply refused to do so on your terms. The NIF even went as far as to propose an alternative agenda — comprehensive financial transparency reform for all NGOs. Current events have underscored the pressing need for reform, time and time again. Indeed, you have very recently admitted, albeit only following pressure from readers, that this is a pressing issue across the entire spectrum of Israeli civil society. The serial refusal to even acknowledge these communications reinforces the prevailing notion that you are acting in bad faith.
I am convinced, however, that if you chose, even now, to engage in an honest debate, you would find eager partners.
On a final note, to quote from your letter, which disparages this blog: “In the spirit of pluralism and constructive dialogue, we ask that you post this response on the” NGO Monitor “website.”