|NIFC Events 2012|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
They say that whenever you get four people in a room to talk about the Middle East, you end up with twelve opinions.
On Sunday, October 21st, the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC) hosted a very special afternoon event titled, “Engaging with Israel Today: Conversations We Need to Have”.
With over 450 people attending this groundbreaking discussion, you could say we had over 1,350 opinions filling the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library.
The main attraction was our interesting, controversial and engaging speakers. They included professor and author Peter Beinart, New Israel Fund (NIF) International Council Co-Chair Talia Sasson, Janice Stein, Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, Shira Herzog, President of the Kahanoff Foundation, and the Honourable Bob Rae. They came to talk, debate and argue about the future of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state.
Participants came away enriched. Though they left the afternoon with perhaps more questions than they brought with them, consensus was that the event was a major success.
Comments ranged from, “The event was an excellent model for dealing with controversial topics in our community” to “This event was excellent – clear, strong, informed. Speakers – brilliant range of perspectives.”
The New Israel Fund of Canada is committed to sponsoring educational events and discussions to inform Canadians about the challenges facing Israel and its communities.
NIFC believes that these events will help engender appreciation for our activities in Israel and strengthen Israel’s founding vision of a Jewish state with full equality for all its citizens.
We are dedicated to providing an open and safe space to have these critical conversations that our vibrant and diverse community yearns for.
NIFC has already begun launching plans for next year’s symposium. We are committed to paying attention to the comments we received to help make next year’s event an even greater success.
About the Speakers
Having written three groundbreaking books before he was 40, including his most recent, “The Crisis of Zionism”, Peter Beinart took the stage to start the discussion on the critical conversations that North American Jews needs to have about Israel. Beinart asserted that there now exists two Israels - a democratic one behind the Green Line (pre-1967 Israeli territory) and un-democratic one in what is known as the West Bank.
As settlement expansion continues, Beinart argues, the chances for a viable two-state solution begin to disappear. Should peace negotiations deteriorate so would the original Zionist dream of both a Jewish and democratic state. Says Beinart, North American Jews -particularly, the younger generation - are feeling pressured to check their “liberal” values at the door when it comes to Israel and, instead, blindly accept that the occupation is both legitimate and necessary.
Listen to Peter Beinart’s talk in the following clips:
Talia Sasson brought not only her perspective as an Israeli, but also as someone who has worked “on the inside.”
Talia served as the Director of the Department for Special Tasks in the States Attorneys Office under Ariel Sharon. She possesses an intimate knowledge of how the legal system affects the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis living beyond the Green Line.
Her role as the Co-Chair of the NIF International Council lends her further credibility as both a progressive and moderate on the issues of the Palestinian territories and anti-democratic legislation currently being debated in the Knesset.
Sasson continued the conversation by examining how the New Israel Fund and New Israel Fund of Canada are funding organizations committed to fight for a more equal, egalitarian and democratic future for the state of Israel.
Despite their work on-the-ground, NIF and NIFC both face challenges today on the political front. A rise of right-wing and religious-based political parties in Israel are shaping how and if we can have these debates that are critical towards Israel’s future, argues Sasson.
Listen to Talia Sasson’s talk in the following clip:
A mainstay in the international relations and political science scene in Canada, Janice Stein brought her considerable knowledge and experience to the table.
Stein began her talk by helping us understand the paradigm shifts that the Middle East is currently undergoing. She explored the rising influence of Islamism in the Middle East and compared it to the rise of religious-based politics in Israel.
Further, she introduced the idea that Israel is on its way to becoming a “theocratic democracy”. As Stein explained it, a theocratic democracy describes a government where people can elect representatives whose decisions are heavily influenced by religious leaders. Such a paradigm, Stein asserts, is one we cannot ignore. Indeed, says Stein, it is one model that may need to consider in our understanding of a future Israel.
Listen to Janice Stein’s talk in the following clip:
After their individual remarks, the Symposium speakers came together for a lively panel debate moderated by Shira Herzog, President and CEO of the Kahanoff Foundation. The discussion and the questions that came out of it inspired thought-provoking debate.
In addition to the Symposium, New Israel Fund of Canada, launched a number of subsequent discussions over the following week, including:
Continuing the conversation about the future of Israel as both a democratic and Jewish state remains a major focus of the New Israel Fund of Canada. By sponsoring projects on the ground in Israel as well as education in Canada like this Symposium, contributors to New Israel Fund of Canada further the ideals of civil society.
Israela Oron, Brigadier General (Ret.)
General Oron addressed over 250 people on recent events that affect the composition of the IDF and Israeli society. As an army officer who broke through many gender barriers, Oron called for an IDF that reflects Israeli society, including religious women. She cautioned that the relative decrease in the participation of religious women in the IDF threatens women’s achievements, and ultimately their status in Israel. She also expressed concern regarding the growing extremism among religious Israelis in the IDF.
New Generations: How Would You Build a More Inclusive Israel?
With former IDF Brigadier General Israela Oron, several dozen New Generations (20s & 30s) debated about how we might establish greater gender equality and religious freedom for all in Israel. Groups explored current events with on-the-ground perspective and context from General Oron. Touching on the social housing protests over the summer of 2011, Oron commented on Israeli social justice, domestic issues and peace.