Shatil Spotlight: Keeping Activists Focused on the Bigger Picture

16 August 2023

When the Knesset’s summer session began, the government introduced legislation attacking civil society almost immediately and far-right ministers were introducing anti-democratic legislation left and right: laws against civil rights groups, against freedom of expression, against freedom of education, and laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Concerned by this trend, Ella Yedaya, Shatil’s National Programs Director, and Hovav Yannai, policy consultant at Shatil Center for Policy Change, recognized the need to provide real-time information about these laws to NGOs and activists opposing the government’s actions.

Initially, the government presented the judicial overhaul as a single legislative package, but was caught off-guard by the public’s response in extraordinary anti-government protests. Realizing the grave threat, the government devised a new strategy: it would use the “Salami Method.” This approach, similar to Poland’s gradual erosion of democratic rights, seeks to pass seemingly innocuous pieces of individual legislation, but which collectively create a set of anti-democratic laws that give the government outsized – even dictatorial – power. 

“Right after the budget was presented, we understood that there was important information we had to make available for social change NGOs as often as twice a week,” said Yedaya. “The government is not interested in considering public opinion or opinions of organizations. So public involvement and pressure are essential to effect change.”

Leaders of civil and human rights organizations turned to Shatil as a much-needed resource. Shatil gave detailed explanations and information about other laws being proposed by the government. This information helped them formulate their upcoming work agendas on the most pressing legislative issues.

Realizing the urgency, Yedaya and Yannai established the “Salami Method” WhatsApp group in May, attracting nearly 900 members. This channel expands understanding of the broader implications of the overhaul and exposes the government’s intentions, helping participants to see the bigger picture.

The list also addresses issues that don’t make it into the mainstream of the protests,  like legislation against freedom of expression and racist legislation. It also helps to create links between the stakes, the agenda, and the professional papers written by organizations to clarify their positions, Yannai said.

The legislative summaries allow activists to target the most compelling issues on any given week. They help the activists to prepare for what must be addressed at protests and on petitions, and lets them know which Knesset meetings they must attend. It also gives them the tools to quickly and directly keep their general public appraised of the ever-changing situation, maintaining engagement in the protest movement.

“Information needs to be provided in real time, as decisions are made rapidly with very little time for public awareness of what is being done in the Knesset,” said Yedaya.

Indeed, the list messages are being re-posted on the website “Restart Israel” which focuses on the protests, getting the information out to an even greater audience. 

Yannai explained the private bill process: The ministerial committee for legislation’s agenda is published on Wednesdays, and the coalition’s stance is determined on Sundays. The Knesset then votes on the bills the following Wednesday, thus leaving civil society a small window to react– either with petitions, position papers, or protests.

Within two hours of the legislations list’s publication, Yedaya and Yannai review the schedule, identify the most dangerous proposed laws and reasons, and collate a clear and understandable compilation for the WhatsApp group and beyond.

Despite the logistical complexity and time constraints, Yannai says that the group is essential.

“Public response represents one of the strongest opposition tools right now, so it is vital for activists to know what is on the table at any given moment,” he said. “The WhatsApp list serves as a broadcasting channel for us to boost organizational knowledge, help formulate position papers, and give professional insights related to the legislative agenda.”

For Revital Sadeh, one of the leaders of the Youth Protest Movement, the “Salami Method” WhatsApp group is an indispensable tool helping to translate the complexity of the legislative agenda for the young members of the group who range from 13 to 18 years old.

“Understanding the details of what is on the table is incredibly challenging for anyone,” said Sadeh. “The WhatsApp group distills the complex information into something accessible, enabling us to extract the most relevant issues for our teenage audience. It helps us provide crystal-clear explanations of what is happening and how it’s affecting them as young people. That way they can be politically aware and mobilized in the protest movement.”