Out Loud

  • Sunshine and Fog

    06 June 2013

    June 6, 2013

    I live in the Bay Area, where the weather can change so quickly it can leave you breathless. You’re standing there on a sunny day, you walk two blocks, and then whomp, you’re fogged in. Or vice-versa.

    It's as good an analogy as I can come up for what's going on in Israel.

    After years of work by the NIF family, the Ministry of Religious Affairs finally comes around to the idea that rabbis serving Reform and Conservative communities should be paid through the communities, and not subjected to the "are-you-ultra-Orthodox?" test for state funding. At the same time, the issue of military service for haredim rages on, disguising the fact that Israelis are unsure what to do with a religious community that isn't even learning science, math, or Zionism in most of its schools.

    Israel's biggest amusement park decides quietly to restrict Arab and Jewish school visits to different days, partially to protect Arab students from overt racism from the Jewish kids. But the Education Ministry is adding 500 Arab teachers to understaffed Jewish schools, and Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks out against exclusion and racism.

    He also appears, smiling and supportive, in a promotional video for the radical ultra-nationalist group Im Tirtzu, which regularly runs anti-Arab campaigns.

    Israel's poverty rate is 21%, compared to the 11% average for the other OECD members, but the money from Israel's new gas fields is starting to come in. Thanks to our campaign to significantly increase the royalties, that's more money that Israel gets for education and social welfare programs.

    But it's also inflating the shekel versus the dollar. And we fund hundreds of organizations in dollars – your dollars – which means a certain amount less that these already-strapped NGOs will receive.

    Sunshine and fog. No-one is even pretending to know if Secretary Kerry's newest efforts will bear fruit or how the continuing chaos of Israel's neighbors will impact its security and future. What we know, however, is that social change means two steps forward and one step back, not losing hope, taking the small victories and building on them.

    This is a good week to be a Reform rabbi in Israel. Next week, we hope it will be just as good for somebody else.

    Daniel Sokatch


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  • Once More The Israeli Government Threatens To Deport Eritreans To A Third Country In Africa

    05 June 2013

    Monday, June 03, 2013

    By Sigal Rozen, Public Policy Coordinator, Hotline for Migrant Workers

    In a hearing held by the HCJ yesterday (Sunday) with regards to the NGOs petition against the Anti Infiltration Law, Adv. Yochi Gnesin, representing the government, claimed that there is already an agreement with a third country that agreed to accept the Eritreans from Israel. She refused to reveal the name of the country or the conditions under which the Eritreans will be sent there.

    Eritreans calling from Saharonim prison told the Hotline for Migrant Workers today that they were gathered by the authorities in prison and were told to be prepared since a third country was found for them in Africa. They were not told which country.

    The decision issued by the HCJ yesterday, ordering the State to provide an affidavit within a week about the third country to which the refugees would be deported and all the relevant details regarding this agreement, unique in its kind. A week after the State's affidavit, we (the NGOs) will need to supply the Court with a short statement
    http://elyon2.court.gov.il/files/12/460/071/S22/12071460.S22.htm (Hebrew)

    According to an article by Barak Ravid and Amos Harel today: Unnamed senior official confirming that an agreement has been reached with some country to accept the refugees, says the disastrous deportation to South Sudan is the model:

    Article by Or Kashti about this offer:

    It should be mentioned that toward the end of the hearing at the HCJ yesterday, Adv. Gnesin stated that the agreement between Israel and the third country will remain secret "because all the countries of the world want an agreement like this, but it seems that we have something to offer that other countries do not" (this is not an exact quote, but a paraphrase).


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  • Freedom

    08 May 2013

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013


    Big news -- On Monday night 9 Eritrean female asylum seekers and their 10 children were released from a detention center in Israel. The asylum seekers had not committed any crime, but were facing indefinite detention for entering Israel without proper documentation.

    In recent years Israel has been struggling with how to manage an influx of refugees from Sudan and Eritrea. There are no simple answers to the dilemmas posed by the needs of the refugees, but certainly locking up children is not the answer.

    The release of these families is a step towards a better Israel. And it’s a testament to the impact of NIF’s work to build a more just and equal society.

    Here is a photo of Solomon, two years old, reunited with his father. Solomon was released after being imprisoned for one year with his mother:

    This change did not happen all on its own. Israeli activists -- backed by the New Israel Fund -- kept this issue on the public agenda. And they pursued a legal strategy to press the Interior Ministry to release the children on humanitarian grounds.

    The breakthrough came last week. Raya Meiler, an Israeli attorney, argued in court that two Eritrean girls she represents should be released because that’s what’s best for the children. No child should be forced to grow up behind cement walls and steel bars.

    The court agreed. It ordered the girls and their mother set free. Yesterday's release of the remaining Eritrean children from detention -- including two-year old Solomon -- follows from this precedent. Our hope is that the remaining refugee children in detention, from Sudan and other countries, will also be released soon.

    You and I know that social change is never easy, but it’s what NIF does: We invest in Israelis committed to the principles of equality and democracy. We support organizations working for a better Israel. And we provide training and advice to these social change activists so that they can be as effective as possible.

    The impact of our strategy is clear when you look at the players behind this story:

    Raya Meiler -- the attorney who successfully argued that children should be released from detention -- is a recent graduate of NIF's Law Fellows program. This program is an investment in the next generation of Israeli civil rights lawyers.

    The Hotline for Migrant Workers -- the organization that Raya works for and which coordinates much of the work regarding the rights of asylum seekers in Israel -- got its first ever grant from NIF 13 years ago and continues to receive NIF support.

    And none of this would be possible without individuals like you. Individuals who care about equality and democracy in Israel, who know that we can accomplish more when we join together than we can apart, and who care enough to invest in Israelis working to help Israel to be a more free and open society.

    Make a donation to the New Israel Fund now. Support equality and democracy in Israel.

    Thank you for being a part of this community.

    Daniel Sokatch
    CEO, NIF

    P.S. -- Here's what Raya emailed us about the value of the Fellowship that NIF sponsored: "The broad legal knowledge I picked up during my year at the Washington College of Law was a huge help in my work on these cases. So NIF also has a place of honor in these victories."

    This is your victory too.


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  • Building Civic Power

    23 May 2013

    May 23, 2013

    Earlier this week, SHATIL - NIF's operating arm - celebrated its 30th anniversary. For three decades, SHATIL has helped Israeli NGOs and activists build capacity and power, work effectively in coalitions, and develop leadership. This week it observed its birthday in classic SHATIL fashion by hosting a two-day conference entitled, SHATIL at 30: People Making Change a Reality - Building Civic Power.

    Hundreds of people attended the conference, listening to Israeli experts like Eva Illouz, Professor of Sociology at the Hebrew University and cutting edge author and thinker, address obstacles to building civic power, and our own Naomi Chazan talk about what it is, exactly, social change agents need to try to change. Attendees also heard from international luminaries like Heather Booth, a leading American political strategist, and many others. They participated in workshops focusing on subjects like using dialogue as a tool for transforming violent conflicts and leveraging the virtual world for genuine impact.

    Participants also discussed the results of a survey SHATIL did in preparation for the conference that examined Israeli views on civil society and civic power. The poll - and the conference in general - garnered a great deal of media attention in Israel, and with good reason. Some of the findings: Almost 90% of Israelis polled believe that government has not responded sufficiently to social needs and problems, and that civil society and social movements can to lead to positive change. 68% of respondents believe that the 2011 social protests empowered the public with the belief that it can make change.

    I particularly liked what SHATIL's dynamic director, my friend and colleague Ronit Heyd, had to say in an interview in the Jerusalem Post:

    "I think that any activity that reflects the interests of citizens is a strength. It's about citizens being active, monitoring the decisions of members of the Knesset, addressing decision-makers directly. This is what at the end of the day creates power instead of leaving it in the hands of decision-makers who tend to see numbers and not people."

    "We live in a fascinating period," she told the Post.

    "On the one hand, our reality becomes full of elements threatening democracy like racism, religious issues and other thing. But on the other hand, there is a sort of citizens' awakening, which peaked in the summer of 2011, and we see much more belief in our ability to influence life in the country, which is touching and very encouraging."

    Touching, encouraging, and also a great tribute to the innovative, creative and essential work of SHATIL. Kol ha Kavod to Ronit and her team; here's to another 30 years of building power for a better Israel.

    Daniel Sokatch


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  • From Boston to Jerusalem

    25 April 2013

    From Boston to Jerusalem

    As everyone the world over knows, last week was a very hard week for the Boston region where we are quite unaccustomed to suffering from acts of terror. I live in Watertown, MA, ground zero for the final manhunt for the perpetrators of the bombing and other crimes. The last gun battle, essentially on Kabbalat Shabbat, was minutes from my home. The silver lining to the senseless violence and suffering is the feeling of solidarity and support Bostonians felt. We all used social media to react in real time to updates on the investigation and manhunt. I was personally touched by the outpouring from friends, family, and colleagues from around the world, including from so many of my co-workers, both Jewish and Arab, in Israel.

    However, the aftermath has left us with some issues to ponder that will not resolve quickly.

    First, our cousins in Israel, sadly, have much more experience with this sort of trauma than we do. We got a hint of this as we made the transition from the Boston Marathon bombings, which coincidentally took place on Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, to Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, the following day. Annually, Israelis make the shift between solemnity and joy, shared sacrifice and national liberation. With last Monday’s events still fresh, the shift to Yom Ha’atzmaut was particularly hard this year for Boston Jews. Will this added dimension better help us understand the Israeli experience? What will Yom Ha’atzmaut feel like next year for us?

    Second, people are beginning to question whether locking down much of the region was necessary. I personally don’t quibble with the decision. I was glad to have my family close at hand last Friday. And as one NIF board member suggested recently, Boston is really a small town. We all know each other, so it made sense that we would all, in unison, obey the call to stay out of the way as if part of a small town. However, another Watertown family interviewed in Ha’aretz suggested that they could not imagine Israel shutting down a major city to hunt down one nineteen-year-old kid. What is the right balance? Hopefully, we will not have to learn the right answer for ourselves the hard way in the future.

    Lastly, the region felt relief and joy when the surviving brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured. The accolades heaped on our first responders were gratifying and touching to listen to. A friend of mine brought his kindergarten twins to the Watertown police station to thank the police in person. A marathoner walked in at that moment to deliver her medal to show her appreciation. Now that the euphoria is dying down, what implications will last week’s events have on social policy? Will it harden our hearts or open them? Will immigration reform suffer? Will civil rights be curtailed in the name of security? Will we act in kinship with those who endure terror daily around the world?

    All of us in Boston are grateful that chapter one of this nightmare has concluded. The healing process is only beginning. As we look to move forward, it helps me to think of Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel’s words at the Boston interfaith service attended by President Obama. Ronne quoted Rabbi Nachman of Breslav who said, “The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the important principle is to transcend, somehow, your fear.”

    Stephane Acel-Green
    New England Regional Director

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Israel's dilemma: Who can be an Israeli?

By Daniel Sokatch and David N. Myers

13 January 2014