Out Loud

How NIF Decides

12 June 2014 By Naomi Paiss

People who run communications are always aware of the news cycle, and we at NIF are no different. These past two weeks have been busy in the Israel/Jewish world: Reuben Rivlin's elevation to the Israeli presidency, the debate over continuing funding to the unified Palestinian government, Eric Cantor's primary loss, the New York Celebrate Israel Parade and the attempts to exclude NIF and our fellow progressives from participating.

All these affect the world in which NIF operates, but many are obviously not in our line of work. We don't participate in partisan politics in the U.S. or in Israel, for example, nor do we take positions regarding Congressional support for Israel or the Palestinian Authority. We did spend time explaining the danger of the creeping politics of exclusion refracted through that parade, but as we expected, the opposition amounted to not-much and we were welcomed by the community, as usual.

One issue that does loom for us is this week's re-introduction, on the third or fourth try, of a bill in the Israeli Knesset that would attempt to up-end the balance between the Jewish and democratic aspects of Israel's national identity through a new Basic Law, Israel’s equivalent of a constitution. NIF has opposed previous iterations of the bill because they blatantly elevated Israel's Jewish character over its democracy, and it is a core value for us that those two identities must continue to coexist in creative tension. We also objected to a clause that would seem to permit Halacha, Jewish religious law, to trump democratic process if the two are in conflict, and to another that would have demoted Arabic from its status as an official language in Israel.

The new bill apparently was re-designed to meet these and other objections, and we will take a close look at it. Some of our allies in Israel have already said that the bill is still dangerous. But this time, the Israeli government did designate a process in which Jews worldwide participated in commenting on Israel's Jewish and democratic nature – with the reported result that the majority agree with NIF that Israeli democracy is as sacrosanct as its raison d'etre as the Jewish homeland. Whether we end up opposing the legislation again or not, we do appreciate the inclusiveness of that process in which we ourselves participated in the U.S., the UK and Australia.

"How do you decide where you stand?" I'm sometimes asked, and the response is that in a multinational organization as complex as ours, with a democratic ethos and a range of strongly-held opinions on what really will make Israel a better society, the decision-making process is often lengthy and considered. NIF's leaders also frequently engage in serious discussions with stakeholders representing many segments of Israeli society. These discussions are never taken lightly. And we also listen to you, our partners in the effort to make a better Israel.

No matter what, the New Israel Fund always stands for democratic debate and dissent. Let us know your thoughts on the issues that matter to you and to NIF, and be assured – we're listening.

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About the Author

Naomi Paiss

Naomi Paiss

Naomi Paiss is the Vice President of Public Affairs at the New Israel Fund.

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