Two years ago, in February of 2015 in the midst of election season in Israel, NIF’s sponsorship of a Haaretz conference in Tel Aviv became a subject of national debate. Knesset Members from the Jewish Home and the Likud parties decided to cancel their scheduled participation in the conference. The Shas party followed suit.
Their excuse? They did not want to be associated with an organization that supports human rights organizations that dare to shine a light on what the reality of the occupation looks like. They knew that announcing a boycott was a good way to channel the anger of their base against the Israeli human rights camp. And what better timing then on the eve of an election?
In short, they tried to turn NIF into a political football.
Their efforts to marginalize us failed, of course. Haaretz published full page spreads listing our grantees to show what NIF does is to make Israel a better place. That very conference was attended by no less than Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. And the next conference we organized with Haaretz featured opening remarks by President Barack Obama.
I don’t believe that the attacks on NIF and on the Israeli human rights sector will end anytime soon. Pitting Israelis against each other is part of the electoral strategy of Israel’s current political leaders. At the same time, there are more and more cases in which even Israel’s most ultranationalist politicians recognize that NIF is a player that they cannot simply ignore.
Here’s what Jewish Home MK Shuli Mualem said in response to ultranationalist criticism of her participation in the most recent Haaretz conference that took place last week: “If I would have to boycott every stage with which NIF is involved, it would be a problem because they’re everywhere.”
And that too is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned on Tuesday after he went to have his picture taken at the opening of a new radiation therapy center in Tzfat.
For decades, the residents of this part of Israel had to travel hours to access the specialized health services that are available in Israel’s urban core. Recognizing that this was compromising the health and wellbeing of these Israelis, they started to organize to call on the government to build such a center in their region. Jewish and Arab Israelis came together for this cause. They wrote letters. They built coalitions. They travelled to Jerusalem to testify before the Knesset. And after a decade of advocacy, success: a new radiation therapy center was just opened at Ziv Hospital in Tzfat.
You would not be surprised to hear that these Israelis were assisted in their struggle by the New Israel Fund. Because, as Ms. Mualem seems to understand, we are everywhere. We believe in the values of equality and democracy. We put our resources behind these values, working to empower and support Israelis creating social change. Sometimes that means supporting human rights advocates in the West Bank. And sometimes it means partnering with Israelis that battle disparities in access to healthcare.
I’m glad that the prime minister showed up in Tzfat to cut the ribbon at this new medical center. It’s a victory against inequality in Israel. I’m not sure whether he’ll stay engaged in the issue when there isn’t a line of cameras waiting to snap his picture. But the people of Tzfat now know what Ms. Mualem knows, and what Mr. Netanyahu may be learning, that when it comes time to stand up for our values, NIF is everywhere.