Two Sides in the Struggle for Israel’s Future

23 May 2024
Daniel Sokatch FB social share

There have always been multiple visions of what Israel is and can be. Today, two of the most prominent are in sharp contrast.  

On one side are those who seek an ethno-nationalist state—a place where Jews are first order citizens, and everyone else is a second order citizen. These are the people who seek Jewish control over all of historic Israel—from the river to the sea. These are the people who attack Palestinian shepherds, as chronicled by the New York Times Magazine this week, and attempt to make their lives unbearable in the hopes they will simply leave. To these people values like equality are anathema. Democracy is merely a system of government, limited in many ways, applicable only to the majority, and its primary function rests in elections, not, say, in rights and freedoms, or an independent judiciary—to say nothing of protections for the rights of minorities. As the late, rightwing American billionaire Sheldon Adelson—who bankrolled the (free!) newspaper that serves as a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—famously said: “I don’t think the Bible says anything about democracy…Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state. So what?”

If that is your attitude, why not do away with the independence of the Israeli judiciary? Why not pass laws to limit the rights of non-Jewish citizens of Israel? Why not support a settlement movement in territories the world agrees are essential to the creation of a future Palestinian state?

Sadly, these are the people calling the shots in Israel right now, including the prosecution of this war. 

And it is people with this world view who—aware of the catastrophic suffering and hunger in Gaza—have been stopping trucks filled with food and medicine en route to the enclave, while they are driving through the West Bank and Israel, attacking their drivers and destroying their contents. Some of the most disturbing images I saw in the last week were of these attacks: Gangs holding up traffic so they can interrogate truck drivers about where their cargo is going. Truck drivers lying on the side of the road, bloody and beaten. And more than one truck, full of aid, in flames.

Fortunately, there is another side to the struggle for Israel’s future and, indeed, for its soul. How did these other Israelis respond to the images of humanitarian goods spilled on the side of the highway? What did they do when they discovered that Israel’s police response to this threat was ineffectual? They – or perhaps I should say “we” – took action.

Meet the Humanitarian Guard: A group of Israeli activists who travel to the West Bank (where trucks from Jordan pass on the way to Gaza) and show up in the locations where the extremists are attacking the trucks. The presence of the Humanitarian Guard has forced the hand of the Israeli police, who show up at these scenes to prevent a confrontation between the violent extremists and the Humanitarian Guard. With the police present, some of the attacks have been stopped and the Humanitarian Guard volunteers help reload the trucks and keep them moving.  

The Humanitarian Guard was created by our grantee Standing Together, which NIF has been funding for years as part of our effort to create a grassroots force that would mobilize in support of our values. 

Their ability to respond to this moment is not only heartening; it is also evidence that our investment has been a good one. 

I could fill this column with scores of  similar stories about the ways in which our NIF community is showing up to give voice to our values, to stand for our vision of Israel as a liberal democracy, and to fight for a better future, a future that is co-owned by everyone living in Israel.

Instead, I want to tell you one more story, which is also a source of inspiration for me. It is about something unusual that NIF did as an organization last month. Historically, NIF has only funded Israeli NGOs. But recognizing the terrible situation of civilians in Gaza—what Cindy McCain, head of the World Food Program termed a “full-blown famine” at least in parts of Gaza—we launched a special campaign to raise funds for two organizations distributing food and other aid on the ground in Gaza. We know that they need all the help they can get as they work  to address the enormous suffering of civilians in Gaza.   

It was particularly moving to me that this campaign brought out a lot of younger donors in a show of grassroots force. In less than a month, more than 2,500 donors raised more than $750,000. This includes hundreds of Israelis. 

Speaking about this special NIF campaign, Tunde Wackman, the Chief Development Officer for World Central Kitchen, one of the organizations NIF supported, said that her organization is “determined to get as much food into Gaza as possible—whether by air, land, or sea—and NIF donors’ contributions will help with those efforts.”

Yes, the need on the ground is great. But we—people of principle and of action, members of the NIF community—can pivot in the face of changing circumstances and take the steps necessary to make a difference. And I can promise you this: we will never stop working for a better, peaceful, sane, shared future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.