Shatil Spotlight: From the Desk of Esther Sivan

14 September 2023

Photo credit: David Cohen

The new year is always a good time to reflect on the past and look ahead to see where we’re headed. For Shatil and NIF, for civil society, for the hundreds of thousands of newly engaged citizens, and for the future of Israel, it’s been quite a year.

The first eight months of 2023 have been terrifying and inspiring at the same time. Both the depth of the threats and the magnitude of the response have gone beyond anything we could have imagined in 2022. We are still in the middle of a constitutional crisis and a monumental clash between the liberal-democratic camp and Israel’s extreme right-wing government. 

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets week after week to protest the injustices planned—and in some cases approved—by this government. These citizens’ activism have succeeded in delaying and even blocking much implementation of some of the new legislation and policies. Previously unengaged individuals have moved out of their comfort zones and stood against the threats to democracy. And Shatil staff have worked night and day to support and cultivate the new protest movement and protect everyone’s civil space.

This year, we put our existing work plans to the side to meet immediate needs on the ground. We learned from protest activists around the world and created a new digital content channel that presented examples of successful struggles. We invited activists from Serbia, Hungary, Poland and Romania to share their watershed moments with Israeli activists in an international conference we hosted together with Zazim. Shatil consultants helped new initiatives that emerged out of the protest get themselves organized. We taught them how to plan and how to make sure their protest actions  have the most impact. We helped the groups organize protests in Be’er Sheva, and newly formed collectives like White Gowns (a group of doctors protesting together), Social Workers for Democracy, Grandmothers for Democracy, the Israel Law Professors’ Forum for Democracy and others.

Shatil organizers have been working to widen the range of issues on the agenda of the mainstream protests. We promote speakers to speak at those protests who will bring messages of Jewish-Arab partnership, social justice and solidarity with Palestinian-Israeli society. We encourage protest organizers to include speeches that address racism and make the connection between the occupation and democracy. In fact, Shatil’s support of the Anti-Occupation Bloc has helped it grow. It began with a presence in just one or two towns, but now there are Anti-Occupation Blocs at protest locations in over 20 locations around the country. As it continues to grow, openness among other protesters to seeing the connection between democracy and occupation also seems to be growing. Now, rather than standing on the edge of the protests, people who publicly oppose the occupation are at the center. Shatil also has a new project providing critical logistical support and organized training to activists in the West Bank who are protecting local Palestinian residents from intimidation and violence from military and settler actions. 

In addition to the protests, Shatil is heavily invested in NIF’s Civil Society Protection Hub that provides comprehensive support to organizations and activists threatened by the government’s efforts to delegitimize and clamp down on their activities. Our capacity-building experts meet with NGOs to help build organizational and staff resilience to such attacks. The Center for Policy Change convenes fora for organizations to coordinate resistance to the government’s anti-democratic measures. Such actions helped freeze the dangerous bill that was introduced at the beginning of the last Knesset session which would have taxed donations by foreign bodies to NGOs at 60%. This would have decimated Israel’s human rights sector. Last but not least, Shatil is committed to the future: training and consultations that invest in human capital and Palestinian-Israeli society, and bringing together our partner NGOs and protest initiatives to discuss how to build a broad liberal camp that promotes equality for all citizens.

This is a historic moment for Israel. There are many reasons to be concerned for the future, but we can also be proud of what we have achieved, and even a bit optimistic. Shatil and NIF have an unique opportunity now to create new alliances, grow our strength, reorganize with our liberal camp, and bring our messages of democracy and equality for all Israeli citizens to more mainstream audiences.

May the new year bring with it strength, hope, and equality, and a renewed belief in human dignity and freedoms.