|Written by Ruby Ong|
28 July 2011
We’re Really in a Big Tent Now
One year ago in Tel Aviv, the NIF board approved expansion into a new line of work for our organization. At that time, the Board agreed that NIF’s traditional strategies of grant-making, capacity building through SHATIL, and special projects targeted at advancing social justice and civil rights in Israel, while all still vital and necessary, were no longer in and of themselves sufficient to beat back challenges to Israeli democracy. In order to more effectively promote our values and goals, defend our sector against increasingly vituperative attacks from extremists, and to push back on an ongoing process of, as our President Naomi Chazan describes it, “de-democratization” in Israel, we launched our “Public Advocacy” line of work. While NIF had, of course, always advocated for its values and positions, we would now pursue this work with renewed vigor and strategic focus.
One year later, we can see the results of this effort. We have focused on building new alliances. Three weeks ago, during the NIF Board meeting in Jerusalem, we met with opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who pledged to continue fighting legislation she has described as anti-democratic. And she pledged to continue her dialogue with NIF, even when we don’t agree.
A week later, we all watched, hearts sinking, as the Knesset passed the so-called “Boycott law,” penalizing Israelis who call for or support boycotts of settlement products. But we put up quite a fight, and helped rally an unlikely alliance to oppose a law that was criticized as antidemocratic by the Speaker of the Knesset, the Knesset legal advisor, the Israeli press, the New York Times, the United States Department of State, the ADL, the AJC and many, more. Now, we’ll support the challenges to this repression of speech and conscience at the High Court.
But political equations change quickly. Last week we experienced a major victory as we and our flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, spearheaded the opposition to yet another attempt by extreme voices in the Knesset to open an “inquiry” into the human and civil rights organizations we so proudly support. The attempt was defeated, almost two to one. And you, our NIF supporters, sent almost 2000 emails to four wavering Likud lawmakers, urging them to oppose the proposed committee of inquiry; two of them voted against, two abstained.
Today, the headlines in Israeli newspapers are all about the huge protests breaking out across the country over the lack of affordable housing in Israel. And while this is an authentic grass-roots movement, here, too, seeds planted by NIF are bearing fruit.
In 2009, NIF set up the Coalition for Affordable Housing to spearhead the campaign to set new housing policy through advocacy, research, planning and outreach across Israel. The coalition includes NIF grantees such as Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Bimkom Planners for Planning Rights, Association for Distributive Justice, and Community Advocacy: Genesis Israel. The issue was declared the highest priority for our Social Justice funding pool.
Eighteen months ago SHATIL set up the Forum for Responsible Planning to coordinate activities around the government's proposed land reform plan. We objected to the planned reform because it would minimize public input, especially on social justice and environmental issues, and maximize quick deals on newly-privatized land for the benefit of wealthy developers. And this “reform” plan is the one the Netanyahu Administration continues to support.
And, as you'll read in our lead news story, we are now on the scene at the twelve protest camps around Israel, providing emergency grants to support the protests on the periphery as well as providing round-the-clock consulting from SHATIL.
Your support makes this work possible. We have so many issues, challenges, opportunities and even crises. What remains constant is our values, the values of equality and social justice we share with you. Thank you for paying attention when we ask for your voice, thank you for helping us get the word out to your communities, and thank you for being the partners our Israeli activists so need to succeed.