|Written by Ruby Ong|
16 June 2011
A Message from Daniel Sokatch
A year and a half ago, Australia (of all places) looked like the first casualty of the hard-right attack on NIF and Israel’s progressive civil society sector. Just days after the initial smear campaign, our Board President, Naomi Chazan, was disinvited from a speaking engagement in Melbourne. NIF was just too controversial, some felt, to introduce to the Australian Jewish community at that time.
A couple of months later, I went to Australia myself. A small band of intrepid Australian NIF activists scheduled a few modest events to test the waters. We were are all surprised and delighted at the response. Everywhere I went, people came to listen and talk, to feel a part of a progressive pro-Israel community that resonated with their values. They told us they had been waiting for NIF. And they offered to volunteer their time, energy and money to build a new affiliate, an “NIF-Oz.”
Over the course of the following year, that’s just what they did. In the face of critics and cynics who told them that NIF was not welcome and would never fly Down Under, our Australian brothers and sisters – working closely with NIF in Israel and the US - began to build. Just like all of us, they wanted a vehicle that would enable them to support an Israel that reflects its founding values.
This month, NIF-Australia launched. And how better to celebrate that launch than with a speaking tour by (you guessed it) Naomi Chazan? Naomi’s schedule is grueling; she is speaking to big crowds all over the country, from synagogues to the Sydney Opera House. And virtually everywhere she has gone, as she tells Australians about NIF’s role in supporting democracy and civil society in Israeli, she has been warmly welcomed. Everywhere she goes, people tell her, as they told me 18 months ago, “we have been waiting for NIF.”
Naomi’s visit and NIF’s launch have been big news in Australia beyond the Jewish community. You can watch an interview with Naomi on one of the country’s leading networks here.
But it is the impact of NIF-Australia’s birth on that country’s young Jews that is, perhaps, most moving to me. As one of them wrote in an Australian Jewish newspaper, before finding NIF he “almost entered a communal black hole… I lacked an anchor to the community.” Now, however, “the New Israel Fund in Australia has given me an avenue of engagement, and it will do the same for others of my generation. We should welcome it and watch as it breathes new life into our community.”
I am incredibly proud today to welcome NIF-Australia, our newest affiliate, into the New Israel Fund. Together we will go from strength to strength, and we will help build the Israel we believe in.