|The Current Protests are a "Dream Come True."|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
Special Interview with NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel
As Israel's unprecedented social justice protests swell and grow, Liel gives a wide ranging interview to NIF News. She talks about the intense feelings that the historic protests invoke, the opportunities for genuine change that have developed, and the NIF family's role in the dynamic new situation.
"As I visited Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard with my husband Alon recently - the place where the social protests began, my pulse quickened with excitement," she says. "I was emotionally overwhelmed by the hundreds of tents, each so distinctive, and the thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life milling around in the boulevard. There were thousands of slogans, posters, and scribbled notes pinned to the tents and on trees and street benches. Each note told a personal story - sad, funny, human, wise or creative - such a wealth of amazing civil society. I was struck by slogans like 'Justice and not Charity,' ' The people demand social justice. It reflected the values I have worked for all my life."
She observes, "People said that Israel's young generation is too individualistic and indifferent, that they live in a bubble, but over these past weeks they have proven they care, that they believe in solidarity and social justice, that they want to shape the future of Israel, and are willing to take responsibility for bringing real change"
Liel continues, "I have been thrilled. I never expected to so many Israelis take to the streets to demand social justice. To hear over 300,000 Israelis demonstrators chanting for social justice is a dream come true. To see protests that unite all sectors of Israeli society is especially heartwarming."
She explains that the grassroots protesters who have taken Israel by storm this summer have had enough of aggressive privatization, cuts in social services, widening social gaps, and economic growth that only benefits the rich. "These are issues that affect the middle class including my own family as well as disempowered communities."
These protests affect all of us personally
Liel adds, "This is why my children and so many young Israelis are out there protesting. Government policy has eaten away at the state's responsibility to the basic needs of its citizens in housing, education, employment, welfare and health. Prices only rise. It is not a problem of the individual, it is a problem of the system. It is not the fault of my children that they cannot afford a home, it is the fault of Israel's economic policies."
It’s clear to Liel that the protesters have had enough. They cannot make ends meet, and the power of the protests sweeping the country has made them realize that they have the power to change government policy. They want a new agenda and a change in priorities, and they want to be partners in shaping society. They want to help write the pages of history that they themselves are creating.
"At NIF, we have for many years used the term ‘social justice’. People told us that they were certain that we wanted to return to the communist era, or at best, socialism, but we have always thought that the market economy can include social economics as well as economics with a human face; it all depends on the social economic policies that those in power adopt. What is happening today proves that we were right. Israelis really do want social justice and believe in the principles of equality and mutual responsibility. The government knows that it must respond to the people's will, and this is a moment that has been worth waiting for.”
Liel recalls that since its establishment, NIF has promoted social justice: from the struggles for equality in allocating state resources to education to fighting for equal opportunities in employment to disempowered sectors. Since 2009, housing has become a priority topic for NIF and SHATIL.
She says, "At NIF we are proud of the role we have played in putting social justice on the national agenda. We identified the problems being caused by the rise in home prices, and their destructive repercussions. The problems encompass mortgages, public housing, an absence of suitable planning at national and local levels, a lack of public land for building and more."
Liel notes that in 2009, NIF supported the establishment of the Coalition for Affordable Housing, which includes grantees in a range of areas like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Bimkom Planners for Planning Rights, Community Advocacy - Genesis Israel, and Association for Distributive Justice. She added that organizations like Yedid: Association for Community Empowerment, and Life With Dignity, which fights for tenants rights in Beer Sheva, have been promoting affordable housing for years.
"Since the protests began we've been on an emergency footing at NIF handing out emergency grants to many tent protests in the social and geographic periphery of Israel, while SHATIL community organizers have deployed throughout the encampments handing out logistical consultancy and advice in getting their voices heard. They have prepared printed materials and guides to distribute in the encampments to help with their campaign and usually manage to reach four to five locations each day."
She said that operations have been supported by the entire NIF family and afull range of grantees. Among these grantees are theADVA Center, which provides policy analysis and statistics about the unfair allocation of money and resources; Physicians for Human Rights, which set up first aid stations in the tent cities;IRAC (Reform Movement) and other pluralistic organizations like Bina and Yud Bet Becheshvan, all of which have held |Tisha B'Av, Kabbalat Shabbat and other Jewish prayer sessions and workshops; Ahoti (My Sister) for women in Israel is helping the tent compound in South Tel Aviv; The Mizrachi Democratic Rainbow – New Discourse, which is part of the tent protest in Tel Aviv's Hatikvah quarter; and Yerushalmim which has helped organize stroller protests about the cost of raising children, working toward a more vibrat and pluralistic Jerusalem.
Encouraged by US and Diaspora support
She pays special tribute to singer, David Broza ,a longstanding supporter of social justice who has written new lyrics to his hit song, Yihiyeh Tov (It will be good).
Looking ahead, Liel says, "This struggle, in all its magnificence, has also taught us a lesson in humility. If you want to make profound social change, then you need everyone. Forces must unite. Nobody can do this alone. And this is our challenge for the future, after the protest phase is complete and the tents are packed up. NIF and SHATIL and the social change family will continue taking part in the struggle for social justice, human rights and democracy to which we have been committed since our founding."
She concludes by praising the young people who initiated these historic protests, "Most of all I have so much admiration for the young leaders who have emerged during these protests. They show us that Israel has a future generation of influential strong leaders and that the country is in safe hands for years to come."