I was a young director at a young NGO when I realized something important. As I was walking in the Knesset’s hallway, I was approached by one of the staffers of a prominent Cabinet member. I didn’t know that he knew who I was, let alone what our NGO was. He said, “Congratulations! I saw that you reached 40,000 followers on Facebook.”
I understood there and then, we were powerful. Our organization, Israel Hofsheet had built a following in a short time. And when a civil society group builds a camp — the politicians take notice. I had never spoken to this staff person before, but now his boss — a Cabinet Member — wanted access to my community.
We have gotten accustomed to looking at the State of Israel and seeing only how the anti-democratic forces are gaining strength and setting the public agenda. But it’s not a secret – NIF has become the leader of the progressive camp. Yes, the right is in power, they are the governing coalition, but we are a force that cannot be overlooked.
We matter to the politicians because we have people-power on our side and our base is getting organized. Our mission at the New Israel Fund and at Shatil is to activate that critical mass.
I’m familiar with the Israeli political system from the inside – early in my career I worked for a member of Knesset and today I serve on the Tel Aviv City Council. I have learned that politicians need people. They may be the public faces who know how to say the right thing, but they need civil society to lead, to act as a vanguard, to begin the process of change-making. Grassroots initiatives are a necessity and a resource for them to do their part.
I’ve seen how, when a community is well mobilized, our public elected officials can quickly feel that their actions have a price.
Since I took on the challenging position of the Executive Director of the New Israel Fund in Israel, I am thrilled to be able to meet, on a daily basis, representatives and activists from an array of Israeli communities. I meet with Palestinians, ultra-Orthodox people, members of youth movements, human rights activists, women, and Mizrahi culture activists. I’ll stop here, but trust me – I wasn’t expecting such diversity.
This is why I am optimistic about our ability to expand the camp. We are growing alliances with new communities as well as preserving our strong core network.
Just look at the Gay Pride March in Jerusalem. Israelis have been marching for more than a decade, and the march keeps gaining momentum. NIF has supported this march from the beginning. Today tens of thousands are marching with strength, overcoming violence and intolerance.
With the right partners and some strategic investments of our time and energy, I know that we can make Israel a far more just society.