February 11, 2009
The results from yesterday’s Israel election have been announced and they reflect a further weakening of the Israeli political left. For those who care about progressive policies and values, this outcome is a matter of grave concern. The question is whether this leads to a collective despair and apathy among many of my Israeli friends and colleagues, or instead stimulates creative thinking about how to revitalize the social change movement at both the civil society and at the political levels.
Last week at our Board meeting, we heard a presentation from Jim Gerstein, a Washington-based political consultant, who also has worked in Israel. Jim described how, following the election of George Bush in 2000, various funders and political activists came together to develop a progressive political architecture. Ultimately, the structural design included a politically savvy think-tank (Center for American Progress), a public research arm (Democracy Corps) and various grassroots organizations, most prominently MoveOn.Org.
Obviously, the political environment in Israel is very different from the US: an electoral system based on proportional representation; multiple parties in the Knesset; unstable coalition governments; and over-riding security concerns. Nonetheless, the US experience suggests that the combination of an integrated strategic orientation with adequate funding can redefine the nature of the policy debate and the civil agenda. Moreover, as our board president Naomi Chazan wrote in last week’s Nation magazine, “real democratic change is cultivated at the grassroots--in neighborhoods and communities that strive for equality and justice and constantly craft ways to realize these goals.”
In the short-term, the progressive grassroots will be a lifeline to the values that Israel needs to survive and prosper. The NIF family, however, is facing the same threats from the economic downturn as the rest of the philanthropic community – amplified by an Israeli system that does not support the nonprofit sector in the ways that we are accustomed to in North America. This week’s Jerusalem Report included an excellent article entitled “Storm Clouds for NGOs,” which describe how Israeli social change organizations are searching for ways to keep their missions and their outreach alive at a time when providing a voice to the invisible Israelis has never been more important. (download the pdf article).
Let me close by emphasizing the importance of your continued support of the New Israel Fund. In the upcoming months, as we reduce our own budget in response to the economic crisis and as we refocus our programs in Israel on our most important tasks and values, we ask that you stay in touch with us, support us, discuss our work with your friends and families, and make your voice heard on the issues most central to Israel’s continued survival as a democratic nation. NIF will be launching new online programs in March and April to assist and empower you as spokespeople for our common causes in Israel – please help us in any way you can.