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New Israel Fund to Launch ‘Virtual’ International Town Hall

8 May 2008

Washington, DC.  As Israel turns 60, the New Israel Fund is providing a very special opportunity to join a provocative discussion of the grave threats to religious and political freedom in Israel – and on the choices Israel must make to guarantee its future as a successful democracy.

The New Israel Fund’s first virtual International Town Hall will take place on Sunday, May 18 at 1:00 PM EST when we will host a live interactive discussion with four of Israel’s leading experts on religious pluralism and fundamentalism.  “Religion and State: Fundamentalism or Freedom?,” our pilot interactive webcast, will allow Diaspora Jews, Israelis and everyone interested in a more progressive Israel the opportunity to learn, think and ask questions – from the convenience of  their home computers.

In Israel, without a written Constitution and with a political system that rewards minority parties with power out of proportion to their numbers, the Orthodox rabbinate maintains a stranglehold on personal status issues, ranging from marriage to divorce to conversion, even to burial.  For Israeli Muslims and Christians, too, religious coercion is an ongoing concern.  In a neighborhood where religious fundamentalism often goes hand-in-hand with extremist ultra-nationalism, the unwillingness to recognize and accept diverse religious beliefs and practices threatens Israeli democracy and freedom – and the fragile peace process itself.

“We want to provide progressive supporters of Israel with more opportunities to learn from and interact with their opposite numbers in Israel,” said NIF CEO Larry Garber.  “With 29 years of experience in advocating for a pluralistic and tolerant Israel, we want to make a substantive contribution to the ‘Israel-at-60’ celebrations.”

The Town Hall will be moderated by former CNN correspondent Michael Greenspan, now a noted documentary producer.  Panelists include:

  • Naomi Chazan, incoming President of New Israel Fund’s board of and former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset;  an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, civil rights, religious freedom, and peace.
  • Gershom Gorenberg, senior correspondent for The American Prospect and the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, and The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.
  • Jafar Farah, Director of the Mossawa Center: The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, and a former investigative journalist for Ha’aretz.
  • Frances Raday, Director of the Concord Research Center for Integration of International Law in Israel, Visiting Professor at University College London, Professor of Law at the Hebrew University, and  Chair of HEMDAT: The Council for Freedom of Religion in Israel.

To register for the webcast and get the easy instructions for logging on, visit

The New Israel Fund plans to host more virtual Town Halls throughout the fall of 2008.

The New Israel Fund is the leading organization advancing democratic change within Israel.  Founded in 1979, NIF has granted over $200 million to more than 800 organizations in Israel dedicated to promoting equality and social justice for all Israelis.  Through an integrated strategy of grant-making, technical assistance and coalition-building, NIF nurtures and develops grassroots organizations that have become the leaders of Israeli civil society.  NIF has its administrative headquarters in Washington, DC and bases its grant-making and capacity-building operations in Jerusalem. 

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