|Democracy in Renewal|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
More than 100 civil society activists, academics, public officials, Knesset members and concerned citizens convened in Tel Aviv on September 5th for the SHATIL-coordinated convention, From Democracy on Guard to a Democracy in Renewal, which highlighted the crucial links between democracy, social justice, and multiculturalism.
On the heels of the largest demonstration in Israel's history, the convention, which was implemented in coordination with NIF flagship grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Jewish-Arab coalition Shutafut-Sharaka, further aimed to leverage the commitment, solidarity, and civic engagement exhibited by the hundreds of thousands of Israelis leading the country's “social awakening.” The event allowed for improved coordination of upcoming civil society efforts, in particular the promotion of democratic decision-making processes and the implementation of more equitable public policies.
SHATIL Director Ronit Heyd started off the convention by speaking to the power of Israel’s burgeoning civic engagement. “These past weeks have been amazing. We see thousands of Israelis taking to the streets and calling for what we at SHATIL, NIF, and our many partnering non-profits have advocated for years. It has finally caught on.”
A panel moderated by Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of ACRI, addressed the connection between present socioeconomic challenges and Israel’s experience with democracy; the panel stressed issues such as the ever-growing political clout of a small but powerful group of business tycoons, the decline of wages compared to the rising cost of living, and increased outsourcing and violations of workers' rights. Also discussed was the importance of effective local governance in the development of social and geographic periphery, as well as the role of microfinance initiatives in empowering vulnerable populations.
Drawing from the inspiring solidarity that emerged between diverse sectors in Israeli society during the protests, another panel focused on the links between multiculturalism, identity and democracy. Panelists presented on the challenges faced by immigrants from the former Soviet Union and by Arab citizens of Israel, expressing optimism over recent social developments. "We have witnessed positive changes of late; social issues were finally placed at the very top of the public agenda, nationalistic discourse was quieted, and the Arab population felt a greater sense of belonging," said Aida Tuma-Suliman, Director of the Nazareth-based Women Against Violence.
Roundtable discussions addressed three issues currently of great significance to the social-change movement: civil society’s role in promoting tolerance and inclusiveness in the media, the design of frameworks for citizen participation in policymaking on an ongoing basis, and the utilization of new media to mobilize activists and influence public discourse.
"This was an incredibly important day," said Avi Dabush, SHATIL’s Director of programs. "We have gained insights and developed directions that will surely contribute to our present efforts to leverage the social awakening to strengthen democracy and promote social justice over the long haul."