On October 15, the Knesset will end its holiday break and return to session. Just before they broke for the summer recess in early August, this Netanyahu-led government, chock-full of extremists, passed a series of dangerous, anti-democratic laws. Key among them was the annulment of the “reasonableness clause,” which eliminated the Supreme Court’s ability to serve as a check on elected officials’ decisions. It was, as government officials themselves stated, the opening salvo of their planned judicial coup. We don’t know yet what to expect from this session, but there’s one thing for certain: whatever’s coming, it probably won’t be good.
But the Knesset reconvening is not the only thing happening on October 15. That day also happens to be the date of NIF’s annual Guardian of Democracy Gala, where, every year, we celebrate the hard work that we and our grantees have done on the ground defending democracy in Israel and pledge to keep fighting in the year to come. We are, as always, ready to meet the moment.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies prepare to open the next chapter of their assault on democracy, NIF, our supporters, and our allies will gather to prepare to defend it.
This year, the Guardian of Democracy will feature two main speakers who represent different elements of the work that we do. First, we will honor one of the most influential democracy defenders on the front lines of the protest movement this past year—a woman named Shir Nosatzki. Shir will receive this year’s Gallanter Prize for Emerging Israeli Social Justice Leaders. Each year, we recognize an emerging Israeli leader who fights for social justice. And in such a challenging year, I am proud to present the prize to someone as courageous and influential as Shir.
Shir, who co-founded NIF grantee Have You Seen the Horizon Lately, is an advocate for Arab-Jewish partnership and has been an indispensable leader of the pro-democracy protests this year. In addition to her work as an organizer, she also continues to struggle for the inclusion of Arab Israelis and for an Israel in which Arab and Jewish Israelis are truly equal partners. Hers is the kind of leadership that Israel needs to become the society we want to see. Shir’s work represents the values NIF has stood for the past forty-four years. I am so excited for all of you to get the opportunity to learn more about her.
Later in the Gala program we will hear a keynote address from Middle East analyst and NIF International Board Member, Aaron David Miller. Aaron worked for the U.S. State Department for twenty-four years, serving under six secretaries of state as a senior advisor on Arab-Israeli negotiations, where he participated in American efforts to broker agreements between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinians. Aaron will help us understand more of the international context in which Israel’s democratic backsliding is taking place.
I am proud to call Aaron a friend, and now a three year long member of NIF’s International Board, as well as the co-chair of our International Council. His knowledge and insight have been, and continue to be, invaluable to us as we struggle to protect Israel’s democracy. His keynote address is something you will not want to miss.
But more than anything else, the Guardian of Democracy Gala is an opportunity for us to come together as a community to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate the work of our organization and our courageous grantees on the ground during these perilous and difficult days.
From organizing protests to defend democracy, to challenging unjust laws, to demanding an end to the occupation and settlement enterprise, NIF grantees like Shir show up every day. And so does NIF.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the United States last week, attempting to distract, dissemble, and whitewash his government’s full-throttle agenda aimed at shattering Israel’s democracy, NIF Board, staff, and supporters were among those who stood up and spoke out to challenge him.
In the Bay Area, NIF’s San Francisco Associate Director, Shimrit Braun Kamin was among the organizers who met him with her megaphone. In New York, our staff and NewGen supporters took to the streets, protesting Netanyahu’s government and reminding other protesters that there is no democracy with occupation. And our people were not only in the streets — they were on stage. International Council member and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman publicly demanded that the media stop calling this government’s destructive behavior a “reform”, and instead call it what it is: a coup. And former NIF Board member Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the spiritual leader of one of the most significant LGBTQ+ synagogues in the country, gave an inspirational speech in which she urged all of us who wish to see a more inclusive, less racist future for Israel view ourselves as “visionaries” working for the just future we want to see.
At a recent protest in Tel Aviv, this year’s Gallanter Prize winner Shir Nosatzki told tens of thousands of Israelis that “We will win this fight together.” She’s right. We win only when we stand together, show up for each other, and keep showing up for each other. This is true when American Jews protest in New York and San Francisco in support of their cousins in Israel. It is true when Israeli Jews protest on behalf of the rights of Arab citizens of Israel. And it is true when we all demand an end to the occupation that oppresses so many who have no rights at all. One single Gala, and one week of protests in New York are important, but we are in this for the long haul, every single day. And we are in it together.
As the next chapter of our struggle for a shared, democratic, and equal future begins, I hope you will take the time to be in community with us on October 15.
I want to personally invite you to join me at the Guardian of Democracy Gala, in person in San Francisco or through our complimentary livestream. Find the details and register here. I hope to see you there. We can do this — together.