Washington, DC and Jerusalem: The New Israel Fund, furthering its mission of advancing equality, human rights and democracy in Israel, today announced an ambitious new effort to change the public discourse and strengthen the pro-democracy, progressive camp in Israel. NIF’s New Initiatives For Democracy (NIFD) will seed-fund and support new institutions and initiatives with the long-term goal of restoring Israel’s national commitment to democracy and the ideals of its founders.
In its 35 years, the New Israel Fund has played a critical role in developing and supporting liberal civil society organizations that have changed Israel. From the first rape crisis centers to the law banning torture in interrogations, NIF-funded organizations have won significant victories on the cutting edge of social change.
But over the past decade, Israel has endured an assault on liberal democratic values and a growing defiance of democratic norms, endangering freedom of speech and conscience as well as minority rights. Overt racism, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise. The terrible eruptions of violence and incitement following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, the subsequent murder of a Palestinian teenager and during Operation Protective Edge are only the latest examples.
NIF’s leadership believes that these trends are no accident, but are intentionally encouraged and accelerated by a well-funded, interconnected network of institutions advocating the viewpoints of the ultra-nationalist right. To advance our own vision of Israel as a just, democratic and egalitarian society, NIF will now invest in infrastructure and constituency-building that will give progressive activists the tools to better mobilize and attract new support, as well as work with constituencies that are not part of the progressive camp but do share values of decency, democracy and fairness.
“NIF’s existing work remains necessary but is no longer sufficient to meet the challenges presented by the changing landscape in Israel. We must do more to support those Israelis working to ensure that their country lives up to its founders’ vision,” said NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch. “NIF and its partners will work to proactively expose and defeat exclusion and extremism at the same time that we aggressively promote a progressive, pro-democracy agenda. We know there is a serious constituency in Israel and worldwide for an Israel at peace with itself and its neighbors, and it’s time to take some bold steps towards realizing those goals.”
NIFD is constructed around three strategies:
- Building UP the power and influence of progressive voices in Israel by funding, partnering with or expanding progressive institutions that cross issue and sector lines;
- Reaching OUT to new constituencies by building bridges to communities that share significant values but are not part of the progressive camp, identifying our common interests and working together on shared goals;
- Focusing IN by concentrating resources for impact. Although NIF made its name as a broadly-focused funder, we will now align our support for existing grantees with the NIFD initiative, and target key organizations and programs for greater impact. Much of NIF’s current investment in social change organization will remain constant.
In planning NIFD, the New Israel Fund consulted with scores of Israeli leaders, activists, policy-makers and experts to identify the most significant challenges for progressive social change in Israel. NIF also interviewed scores of leaders and activists from outside the progressive camp, gaining a deeper understanding of their non-alignment with the progressive agenda in spite of sharing core values. NIF then consulted analysts at American institutions that were instrumental in rebuilding the progressive sector in the U.S., as well as experts in Europe and elsewhere.
Finally, the program plan was refined and adopted to the Israeli context. Eight new partners and/or programs have already been identified, approved by the NIF Board, and are beginning to receive funding or incubation support, including:
- Articulating Progressive Vision and Policy: Molad, the Center for Renewal of Israeli Democracy and Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
- Reclaiming National Security by Constructing a New Progressive Paradigm: The Council for Peace and Security
- Promoting Progressive Voices in the Local Arena: SHATIL
- Creating Progressive Leadership: SHATIL
- Engaging with the Mizrahi Sector: Kiach
- Mobilizing Broad Constituencies for a Shared Future: Shaharit
- Media Monitoring: Incubation phase
- Online Engagement: Incubation phase
The eight programs, which take into account the specific expertise and mission of each partner organization, were designed to comprise an initiative that tests different theories of change to accomplish NIF’s goals. Although some organizations specifically embrace a progressive agenda, and others seek to engage with new constituencies outside that camp, NIF is hopeful that disparate strategies will complement and integrate with each other over the long-term life of the initiative.
“The ability of progressive forces to effectively advance our agenda depends on our willingness to create a much stronger set of infrastructure organizations that reach across individual organizations and issues to unite our sector,” Sokatch said. “We also need to work with a broad swath of constituencies that do not identify as progressive but who do share our commitment to democracy and social justice.”
“The institutions of the right, from think-tanks to the various “watch” and “monitoring” organizations, act together to put forward a vision of Israel that is ethnocentric, intolerant, and prepared for perpetual conflict. We know how building a progressive infrastructure in the US and elsewhere has changed the power dynamic. The only way to advance a competing vision in Israel is to build the progressive institutions needed to sustain it, and to reach beyond our borders, creating common cause with others in Israeli society committed to a shared future.”
“Given our experience and record, NIF is uniquely positioned to help strengthen Israeli efforts to oppose the threats to democracy and pluralism in Israel today and to empower Israelis to build a majority constituency for egalitarianism and justice. We have always convened organizations and magnified their work – this is the next step in that process.”
In other news, the New Israel Fund is proud to announce that our Board of Directors elected prominent Israeli attorney Talia Sasson as the organization’s president to succeed current president Brian Lurie at the end of his term in June, 2015. Ms. Sasson, who represented Israel in the State’s Attorney’s office in various key functions for 25 years, is best known for her authorship of the Sasson Report, commissioned by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005, which detailed the diversion of millions of government shekels to build illegal settlements and outposts.
“We are honored that Talia has accepted the responsibilities of the NIF presidency,” Rabbi Lurie said. “As an expert on Israeli law and politics, and as someone who has served Israel through her long and successful career, Talia is the leader NIF will need going forward.”
For more information about NIFD and our partners, visit our website at www.nif.org/nifd.