|Thwarting anti-democratic Knesset moves: A first person view of the work of SHATIL's Center for Policy Change|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
Idit Menashe, a lobbyist at the Center for Policy Change, came to SHATIL eight months ago after five years as a legislative aide. "I wanted to take the knowledge and experience I had gained in the Knesset and give it back to civil society," says Idit. "I had seen how hard it was for all but the most established organizations to make their voices heard and to have any influence in an environment as complex as the Knesset." Idit first heard of SHATIL as a student activist at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, where she worked to lift the ban on political activity on campus.
Last week, in a hard-won victory, the Knesset refused to support Avigdor Lieberman’s initiative to establish a “parliamentary inquiry” into progressive and human rights groups. Here is Idit's first-person account of her tireless work to defeat the initiative:
Our first goal was to map all the Knesset members and government ministers based on their voting records on similar measures and our evaluation of their current political situation. The information was fluid and changed daily, based on news reports and feedback from the organizations and from MKs. We used the numbers to convince friendly Knesset members that we had a good chance of winning and that they should do everything they can to make sure all their members were present for the vote. Our goal was to recruit the entire Opposition to be present for the vote, and ensure that as many government Coalition members as possible would either vote against the measure or not show up.
We asked that all of our activists begin networking with their various contacts in both the government as well as other organizations. I let social change organizations know that Faina Kirschenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Danny Danon's (Likud) proposals were on the Knesset's agenda and asked each of them to contact whomever they know in the Knesset and the government and ask them to be sure to be present for the vote and to vote against the measure. If their contact was someone who did not feel comfortable voting against the measure, then to ask them to at least absent themselves from the vote.
While NIF/SHATIL and flagship NIF grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) were the main forces working against the proposal, we recruited other organizations – and not just the leftist ones -- to the task. Our argument was that this inquiry will start with the leftist organizations, but who knows where it will end?
Our analysis was that the international pressure and intense local media criticism of Netanyahu after the [previous week’s] passage of the boycott law very much influenced his decision to come out against the investigative committee proposal. Bibi announced that he was against it, but gave Coalition members the right to vote their conscience – which made everything more complicated. Will there be MKs who dare to vote against their party? Does Bibi want this to fail? Will he work to make it fail? Will he change his mind at the last minute as he has in the past? Despite what he said, we didn't rest. We didn't assume it would not pass.
In the end, we met our goal. Most of the opposition MKs showed up for the vote and many of the Coalition MKs did not. And in the end, the “inquiry” failed by a vote of 57 to 28.
The voting process was extremely long because 50 MKs spoke for five minutes each. I watched the talks for a few hours from the Knesset and then went home and watched on TV, while getting constant updates about who was leaving, who was staying…The process started at 3 p.m. and the vote didn’t take place until 10 p.m. And even that was longer than usual because 20 MKs asked that the vote be a roll-call vote by name – rather than having everyone simultaneously press a button for or against.
I was very, very happy when the vote came in but also exhausted. It had been a very difficult two weeks. In addition to working around the clock against the investigative committee proposal, we also worked on two other bills that would have dramatically reduced or taxed overseas funding for human rights and other progressive organizations. We managed to get these discussions postponed in the Ministers' Legislative Committee, which all bills must pass through so the government can decide if it's for or against.
As you can see, there is no time to rest…but the work is very gratifying. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.