Bridging Gaps in Tense Times

3 March 2016

I’ve just returned to the States after NIF’s winter board meeting in Israel. These are tense and challenging times. Everyday Israelis, especially in Jerusalem, live in fear that the next stabbing attack could be right around the corner and could happen at any moment. Against this backdrop, the governing coalition is pressing ahead with efforts to re-write the rules of Israeli democracy. The latest episode in this effort, which passed its first Knesset vote last week, is legislation allowing Knesset Members to suspend their fellow elected representatives — a move widely seen as aimed at Israel’s Arab Knesset Members.

At the same time, there is impressive work taking place on the ground, with tens of thousands of Israelis striving together to make Israel a more equal and inclusive place. We devoted an entire day of our board meeting to studying initiatives underway in Israel to confront racism and to try to close the gaps between Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, so that every Israeli is able to proudly take his or her place as a truly equal member of a shared society.

These efforts to connect Jews and Arabs within Israel in the most meaningful of ways — not simply to engage in dialogue or debate, but rather to identify shared interests and to work to protect them — is some of the most important work that NIF supports. This work doesn’t get a lot of outside attention and it often takes place far from the eye of the media. And yet, as you well know, real progress towards social change is not measured by the number of Google Alerts we see in our inbox. Our efforts to foster a sense of partnership and mutual responsibility among all of the communities within Israel, especially the most marginalized, can have a profound impact on the nature of Israeli society for many years to come.

It must be said that there has been real progress in the policy arena (even under the current government) to better meet the needs of Palestinian Israelis. As you’ll read in this newsletter, new policies are moving ahead that will allow more construction within Palestinian-Israeli communities. And this move comes on the heels of a Cabinet decision to restructure Israel’s budget framework to end discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority. That decision, if fully implemented, means an additional investment of $4 billion over the next five years in Israel’s Arab communities.

Our board also held private discussions with leading figures in Israel, including Knesset Member and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, and U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro. As these meetings attest, NIF has never been a more significant (and visible) player in the Israeli discourse, supporting Israelis committed to the values of equality and democracy.

I return from Israel knowing that what we’re all sensing from reading the papers and talking to our friends is true: this is not a simple moment for the Israel we care so much about. But I also return, as I always do, with a renewed sense of possibility and optimism. The tremendous energy and commitment that characterize our Israeli colleagues and partners is, quite simply, inspirational. They are on the front lines of the fight to preserve Israeli democracy, and they know that we have their backs. And no matter how great the challenges, we must remember this: A better future for Israel is not only possible, we are working to make it happen.