March 6, 2012
The not-so-stealth campaigns against the Arab civil rights organization Adalah, its supporter the New Israel Fund, and the values of democratic and minority rights are hitting new lows.
For example, NGO Monitor recently went public with an op-ed it knew to be wrong, along with some manipulative interpretation. Having wrongly accused Adalah of participating in a European BDS conference, they attempted to associate the organization with the BDS campaign — even after they were told of their error and after the conference took place without Adalah’s participation. In fact, boycott is not a part of Adalah’s mandate, simply because it seeks change through Israel’s legal system. Meanwhile, other organizations use NIF’s support of Adalah as a wedge issue in an attempt to delegitimize both the New Israel Fund and Arab civil society. This is not a minor matter.
In some places, the leading organization advancing civil rights for society’s most disadvantaged minority occupies an honorable place in civil society. Just look at how the NAACP is regarded in America. In Israel, it’s troubling that Adalah, which has won countless cases in court on behalf of Israeli Arab citizens, is regarded with suspicion at best.
Despite the unique circumstances here in Israel, Adalah has trod a path of ideological and pragmatic moderation. Adalah uses litigation to advance human and civil rights in Israel, and their impact speaks for itself. This organization won a precedent-setting victory in September 2011 on behalf of an Arab couple excluded from living in the village of Rakefat. In 2010, the High Court of Justice ordered the Tax Authority to discontinue tax breaks based on location, which discriminated against Arab-Israeli towns and villages, following an Adalah petition. In a groundbreaking victory this past fall, the Kiryat Gat Magistrate’s Court ordered the State to cancel 51 demolition orders issued against the Bedouin village of Alsira; the judge criticized the razing orders because the families have been living in the village for decades.
And just this week, the High Court overturned two clauses in the Income Support Law that forbade poor people from owning a car. The petition, brought by Adalah and other NGOs, now protects poor Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, from having to surrender vehicles they need for work, medical or family needs or risk losing their income benefits.
The common thread in these achievements is that Israel is a more just, more equal, and more democratic state. Israel’s founders set out to create a Jewish state. But they were crystal clear in their desire to see Israel provide meaningful equality for all of its citizens, including the Arab minority. Adalah’s advocacy brings us closer to this ideal.
Tax districts and real-estate exclusion are not the stuff of revolution. Because opposing Adalah’s successes would be too obviously racist and discriminatory, its adversaries instead point to the organization’s participation in a theoretical proposal for an Israeli constitution more than five years ago. At that time, Adalah and other leaders in the Arab community proposed a model that emphasized the democratic nature of the state at the expense of its Jewish aspects.
An invitation to discuss
It is certainly worth arguing with the authors of that document, and I do. But let us remember that at the time that document was written, Israel was abuzz with conferences about what we might want in a constitution. Adalah’s “democratic constitution” proposal told us, the Jewish majority, that there are other ways to think about our most structural issues – and that actually inviting Arab citizens to participate in the conversation might be useful.
The truth is, despite repeated false claims to the contrary, Adalah does not focus on changing the nature of Israel as a Jewish state. It seeks to achieve equality for all, as promised by Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Adalah’s purpose, admirably fulfilled, is to chip away at the legislative and social discrimination that the Arab minority faces on a daily basis.
It may be that this very success is why Adalah, and its funder the New Israel Fund, attract such enmity. Only the bravest ultra-nationalist ideologues are honest enough to say what they are really after – a state without Arab citizens, or one in which those citizens docilely accept second-class status. Instead, the mouthpieces for the extreme right that attempt to preserve a veneer of respectability, like NGO Monitor, opine that it should be illegal for Adalah and other NGOs to receive funding from democracies abroad (using the same arguments that the Egyptian and Russian governments, those paragons of democracy, are using these days.) Then they try to bully NIF into dropping its support as well. Given that almost every Israeli NGO, including NGO Monitor itself, gets significant funding from overseas, the only conclusion is that these ultra-nationalists believe that Adalah should be utterly defunded, and cease to exist.
That would be a tragedy for everyone. Just this month, Adalah director Hassan Jabareen pointed out that his organization is frequently criticized by various sectors in the Arab world for not being more ultra-nationalist. A recent example is Adalah’s statement criticizing the Syrian regime for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Adalah’s objective of socio-economic equality for the Arab minority irritates both the Islamists and those who think that any encounter with the machinery of the Israeli state is wrong. Destroying Adalah means empowering those whose real aims are innately destructive, both in the Jewish and Arab communities.
We can’t allow the attacks on Adalah to succeed. The survival of Israel’s democracy depends on allowing the voices of unpopular minorities to be heard. We, the majority, will not always like what Adalah has to say, or the light they shine on discriminatory practices. It doesn’t matter. Living up to our own best interests and values means that we must engage with our fellow citizens when they stand up for their rights. The attacks on Adalah may hurt that organization. In the long run, they will hurt Israel more.
Yehudit Karp is the former Deputy Attorney General of Israel and a member of the International Council of the New Israel Fund