This past February in Jerusalem, New Israel Fund of Canada, together with our partners in the New Israel Fund around the world, met to discuss, among other issues, the ways in which the current global political climate affects our work and mission. The focus for many was the reaction of our American colleagues and the onset of the Trump era. And, yet, the story does not end there nor does the American perspective speak to the uniquely Canadian outlook we here are using to interpret the social trends around us.
The following is an excerpt from my remarks to the International Board on this issue:
What is our response in Canada in the Trump era?
I suggest NIFC’s role is now about the increased impact we believe can have which will in turn support fundraising and perhaps more.
We in Canada believe we must say this as our response to the current global climate: NIFC is about our shared Canadian values, and our support for those who act at the grassroots to bring change in Israel that advances those values. We believe that this commitment to and expression of issues as values at this moment will translate into increased support for our work, and we must explore additional questions of political support in partnership with advocacy organizations.
We believe we can be an outlet for a group larger than those who currently support us, who are deeply concerned by what is happening to our south and, perhaps by extension, in Israel. We must be boldly present to fill that role and explore its dimensions.
Other countries are facing their own turns to the right. We in Canada, extraordinarily, went from the right to the left in what is now a source of national pride. There is a remarkable range of national political experiences in this organization and at this [International NIF Board] table. Our role in Canada is, at least now with the current government and the broad support felt for it, to build on the pride being shared in Canadian values and turn that to support for our work in Israel.
A foundational question outside of the United States is our political role in NIF regarding President Trump. My view is that organizationally we have no political role regarding President Trump. Outside the US, we need to bring together progressive energy to do good in Israel without engaging in political debate about the United States. It is not wise or appropriate to bring our good will into a battle about President Trump.
This is more clearly the case in the Jewish community.
How can this possibly be true? Fear in the Jewish community in Toronto and Canada determines the opinions for many on the right, and impacts on the way politics in Israel and the politics of President Trump are heard – and the real, horrifying expression of anti-Semitism in North America now is reinforcing that fear. Fear for Israel and the Jewish community is a key motivator. In part, it explains support for expressions of Israeli nationalism and even increased anxiety for Israeli security. Given that context, I suggest it is hard for many to hear Israeli or American politics critically, separate from the fear for Israel’s existence. I believe that gradually many are beginning to understand President Trump as a source of danger to Israel; particularly, in light of the trend of the non-Jewish right being encouraged internationally by his success.
I believe the emerging international right doesn’t change the need for us to be seen as a beacon for values in Israel. And this task, always difficult, may be easier now as the dangers of the right are part of the context in which we operate.
And so, although we shouldn’t be the ones to say it, nonetheless, it is all about President Trump and the move to the right in the world. Our support for democracy in Israel is heard in a new and now very worrying context of fear for shared democratic values. Today is about the values and our task is to give an opportunity to stand up for our values. The recent campaign to circle mosques around Toronto as a gesture of support for religious tolerance is an apt illustration. There was great relief in standing up for our values, in action consistent with those values.
Without naming President Trump, the absence of a feeling of security, of a steady ground beneath our feet builds desire to act and demonstrate that we are still the same people as we were before November. We are hoping that that will translate into a desire to support the expression of shared values in Israel: a willingness to be critical and a desire to bring change from the ground up.
At NIFC, we are asking hard questions about the activity areas in Israel and their reflection of our broader values. Issues like treatment of refugees in Israel (with the unspoken US echo), and perhaps the role of the courts, and the larger issues of democratic deficit, and racism, may resonate very differently now than even six months ago. Any discussion about retaining commitment to values is heard with different ears. Can that translate into increased support for the NIFC mission? We believe so.
After delivering those remarks, when I met Israeli activists supported by New Israel Fund working with optimism and profound commitment to a better Israel, I knew our shared values demand our continued support.
NIFC Board President
Israel took a step toward freedom of the press last week when the Knesset gave initial approval to cancel a 1933 ordinance requiring a government license for the publication of a newspaper.
The bill was initiated by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in response to a High Court ruling in a case brought by NIFC partner the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an NIF grantee, together with the I’lam Media Center.
“We at ACRI. . . have taken one more step in ensuring freedom of expression for all,” said Sharon Abraham-Weiss, executive director of ACRI.
The anti-democratic ordinance allowed the Interior Minister to restrict Freedom of the Press. In the past decade the ministry prevented the publication of at least 62 newspapers under the law, Haaretz reported.
The ordinance allowed the minister to halt the publication of a newspaper if he believes it endangers the public or can provoke panic or despair. In one instance, an applicant was rejected because he had been charged with building infractions.
The Washington-based Freedom House that monitors restrictions on democracy around the world recently lowered Israel’s freedom of the press ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free” largely due to military censorship, gag orders and travel restrictions on journalists.
In democratic countries around the world, the State does not have the authority to interfere in the media, restrict it or close a newspaper.
ACRI had initiated the case on the ordinance first in 1996, filing several petitions to the Supreme Court since then, including the latest in 2014 with the I’lam Media Center, an organization founded by Arab Palestinians in Israel.
Photo via Flickr
The Public Housing Forum celebrated a major success when Israel revealed an unprecedented 1 billion shekel plan to invest in public housing last week.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant announced the plan following intense efforts by the 12-member forum that is funded by the New Israel Fund.
The Public Housing Forum was founded by Shatil in 2011 as a result of protests by hundreds of thousands of Israelis around the country from all walks of life demanding more affordable housing.
The demonstrations were sparked by a protest tent set up in Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard by a 25-year-old video editor. At their peak on one night of the protests, an estimated 10 percent of Israel’s population attended rallies.
According to the new plan at least 2,000 housing units will be made available to those eligible and the conditions for the eventual purchase of public housing by renters will be loosened.
The forum welcomes this breakthrough and is following the developments carefully to examine the implementation of the program.
Israel’s High Court has ruled that two converts to Judaism from Peru can stay in the country in a case brought by the NIF-grantee the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).
As a result of the court ruling, the Israeli government has agreed to revise the criteria for recognizing conversions performed in “emerging” Jewish communities, the Haaretz newspaper reported.
IRAC’s Legal Aid Center for Olim (LECO) had petitioned the court as part of the ongoing “who is a Jew” struggle that aims to ensure that Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism are allowed to immigrate to the country.
LECO represents hundreds of converts each year as part of its goal to ensure that all Israeli immigrants are granted equal rights irrespective of race, sexual orientation or national origin.
The two converts, Eva and Sadina, discovered in recent years that they are the fourth generation descendants of a Jewish merchant who moved to Peru from his native Morocco more than a century ago searching for work in the rubber industry.
The sisters decided to convert to Judaism together with about 250 other Peruvians with similar ancestry. The group studied Judaism in classes sponsored by Israel’s Conservative Movement. Eva and Sadina began practicing Judaism and completed their conversion by passing an examination by three Conservative rabbis and immersing in a ritual bath. As they emerged from the water, everyone blessed them, saying, “You are our sisters.”
About a year later, when the sisters wanted to join their families living in Be’ersheva, Israel denied them citizenship, allowing them into the country only on tourist visas.
Israel’s Interior Ministry – ruled by the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party — declared their conversion was unacceptable since it was performed in their hometown of Pucallpa and not in in Iquitos, which has an established Jewish community.
In the petition to the Supreme Court, LECO‘s attorney Nicole Maor argued that conversion should be based on the integrity of the conversion process and not on geography.
The court earlier this month granted Eva and Sadina temporary legal status while the Interior Ministry works with the Reform and Conservative movements to adopt new criteria for the recognition of conversions performed outside of Israel. They are expected to obtain permanent residency within six months.
Should that happen, Be’ersheva’s Conservative synagogue is planning to celebrate their citizenship with the same words that welcomed them into Judaism years ago, “You are our sisters.”
Photo via Flickr
Over the course of the past year, we have witnessed a spate of activity that replaces respect, regard, and esteem for one another with fear, exclusion, and a disregard for the values of equality and civil rights. This trend is not limited to a single country or a particular incident.
As my colleague in San Francisco, New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch, has observed, we are witnessing a trend towards authoritarian behaviour that knows no geographic boundaries:
“To get our bearings, it helps to understand that what’s happening here in the United States is part of a global trend. Over the past several years, a nativist, neo-authoritarianism has swept across the globe. It has shaped the current political situation in Israel. It is behind Brexit. And it has now reached [American] shores.”
Most recently, Israel passed a bill that legalizes settlements built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank. The Israeli daily Haaretz also reported the case of over 500 Palestinian homes being raided without notice and without a court warrant.
How do Canadian supporters of Israel who believe in the values of democracy, equality, and civil rights react to these challenges? As with every project, every initiative, and every effort that NIFC has launched since its inception, we work to strengthen Israel from within. We build on the solid foundations of Israel’s founders who asserted in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that that ensures “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
“It should come as a surprise to no one that Israel’s early leaders — impacted by the Jewish experience — were also active in pushing the international community to create new norms for the humane treatment of refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries.
In the late 1970’s then-prime minister Menachem Begin saw a parallel between the experiences of Jewish refugees from Europe and the Vietnamese Boat People, who were escaping their country. Hundreds were granted asylum in Israel. A decade ago, too, as Israel became a destination for refugees fleeing Sudan, Israeli leaders acknowledged that Israel must act to meet the needs of refugees. In 2007, advocating for a proposal to take in a limited number of refugees then Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said, “Israel, with its history, must offer assistance. It can’t stand by and shut its eyes.”
And so, as with situations past, we are ready to act. This is how NIFC and its partners along with New Israel Fund in the United States has responded:
• After a decade of legal struggle led by the team of attorneys at Yesh Din, a legal rights group supported by NIF, settlers were removed from Palestinian-owned private property on which they had built the settlement outpost of Amona. They worked within Israel’s legal system to do so.
• NIFC’s signature partner, ACRI, defends the free speech of activists in Israel’s court to preserve the country’s commitment to discourse.
• In addition, ACRI has developed cutting-edge anti-racism curriculum taught in schools all over the country for progress to continue into the next generation.
• Haqel, a group funded by New Israel Fund of Canada, offers legal aid to Israelis who cannot afford representation when their homes are in danger.
It is in the very fabric of Israel’s foundations where hope lies during these times. Israel is a democracy. Despite challenges to its security, both internal and outside of its borders, its democratic ideals have withstood untold challenges borne of fear. NIFC is committed to serve its role in Israel to uphold these values. And it’s through the efforts that Canadian donors support – through the tireless work of activists across Israeli society – where real and effective change is possible.
Last week, NIF, in partnership with Mossawa, launched the ‘Human Warmth’ photography exhibit in Haifa. The inspiring collection focuses on Jewish-Arab cooperation during the devastating fires in the north of Israel last November. The exhibit features images taken by both Jewish and Arab photographers, and is being hosted by Haifa’s Leo Baeck School (which is attended by both Jewish and Arab students).
Here are a few photos from the exhibit:
The launch event was attended by the photographers, by Leo Baeck students, by representatives of civil society organizations, as well as by local and national press. Speaking at the event, Joint List leader MK Aymen Odeh, a Haifa resident, said: “Let’s spread the spirit of Haifa to the rest of the country… Most people in Haifa… know that it’s an added value that there are two peoples here and not just one. That there are two cultures here and not just one. More than a month ago it broke my heart to see our Carmel on fire, but I also saw partnership. I saw Arabs and Jews struggling against the fires, opening doors and hearts, hosting each other.”
Speaking about the sense of shared society evident in the exhibit, Shatil’s Haifa Office Director Fathi Marshood noted that “this solidarity cannot be taken for granted. It is the fruit of our grantees’ work over many years, and it proved its worth in November!”
The exhibit received widespread media coverage. It represents an opportunity for NIF to counter the pervasive divisiveness by featuring the emotional and inspiring moments of cooperation and generosity.
Following widespread demand, over the coming months the exhibit will be displayed around the country.
Two weeks ago, the deaths of Yakub Musa Abu al-Qian and Erez Levi rocked Israel. The government’s demolition of homes in the in the Negev Bedouin village Umm al-Hiran led to a confrontation. Amid the chaos of bulldozers, al-Qian was shot and subsequently crashed into Levi, a police officer.
Government sources immediately called it a terrorist attack, a characterization contested by eye-witness testimony and footage showing a barrage of police gunfire at al-Qian before he appears to have lost control of his vehicle and ran over Amedi. On Monday, a group of Bedouin and Jewish activists organized a convoy from Umm al-Hiran to the Knesset to demand the release of Yacoub’s body (which was being held, but has since been released and buried) and justice for Umm al-Hiran’s residents.
Since the 1980’s, NIF has been a consistent presence in the Bedouin struggle for recognition and for equal access to housing and physical and social infrastructure. And in the chronicles of Bedouin struggles, Umm al-Hiran evokes particular anguish: The government moved the residents to their current location in 1956 to prepare the western Negev for Jewish settlement. However, the new village never received official recognition and remains without access to water, proper education, and other necessities. Since 2003, the government has considered displacing residents, once again, to build the Jewish city of Hiran; and last March, the residents received a court order to evacuate their homes. Shatil has supported the community’s resistance to this process together with NIFC partners, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Sikkuy and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
At 3:00 in the afternoon on Monday, the entrance to the Knesset was swarming with local police — some on horseback, border police, and helicopters circling above: all prepared for an out-of-control, seething protest. But the somber group of demonstrators trudging up to the lawn where the protest was to be held offered a clear contrast to the high-security welcome that awaited them. The demonstrators were chanting messages imploring the release of Yacoub’s body and protesting government actions; the placards they carried bore similar messages, and many signs simply said, “Equality” in Hebrew and in Arabic.
One demonstrator holding the “Equality” sign, Wadia Abu El Kian, a farmer from Umm al-Hiran, shared his thoughts with NIF: “Even though my house is still standing today, my neighbor’s house was demolished, yesterday – where is the justice? The government has completely failed. I just can’t understand why anyone would object to having some Bedouins living next to Jews. We breathe the same air and we have the same weather. Peace is about equality.”
Following the violence in Umm al-Hiran, the NIF family is taking action on a variety of fronts. NIF grantee Adalah has called on the Justice Ministry to investigate allegations of police brutality after MK Ayman Odeh (leader of Hadash, and head of the Joint List) was injured. In a statement, Adalah and NIF grantee the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel said: “The acts described [in the groups’ complaint] raise the suspicion of illegal use of force and illegal use of firearms. The officers’ actions violated Israeli law and constitute an infringement of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.” Odeh says that he was pepper sprayed from point-blank range and hit in the head with sponge-tipped bullets.
The complaint also addresses false claims made by the police in the aftermath of the event: “Publicizing utterly baseless claims about MK Odeh’s injury from rock-throwing, or his involvement in or abetting of an [alleged] car-ramming terror attack, amounts to willful misleading of the public, and reaches the level of incitement.”
Controversy also continues to surround the death of Yakub Musa Abu al-Qian. Last week, the government’s demolition of homes in the in the Negev Bedouin village led to a confrontation. Amid the chaos of bulldozers, al-Qian was shot and subsequently crashed into Erez Levi, a police officer. An initial autopsy of Abu al-Qian has suggested that he may have lost control of his vehicle after police shot him in the knee before he crashed into Levi, who was also killed. The autopsy also shows that al-Qian was allowed to bleed, unattended, for about 30 minutes, and that his life may have been saved if he had received immediate medical attention.
Sikkuy, an NIFC partner, produced a short video highlighting the discrimination Israeli Arabs face when it comes to building homes. The film reports that since Israel’s founding, that five million dunams of land have been expropriated from Arabs; that 700 new Jewish towns have been established, but not a single Arab one; that there are 46 unrecognized Bedouin villages that lack basic infrastructure; and that most Israeli Arab towns have no master plan for building. Sikkuy is also planning a large demonstration on the issue in the coming days.
Photo by Neal Ungerleider via Flickr
I’m pleased to start off the year by proudly introducing one of the projects that you, our generous supporters, are helping to fund in 2017. The ADVA Center in Israel is a leading source of tools, research, education, and community-building focused on the issues affecting Israel’s most disadvantaged. ADVA’s approach to address socio-economic issues is to empower citizens through greater knowledge of their rights and opportunities. ADVA’s singular capacity to highlight social and economic inequality has inspired Israelis to articulate their need for everything from affordable housing to job training to childcare and accessible healthcare. What’s more is that ADVA has inspired emerging young leaders to approach their work and careers through the lens of social and economic justice.
What does ADVA actually do? In rural villages, activists sit down with residents to train them on how to reach a municipal budget. This way, residents can better understand how their own tax dollars are being distributed. These budgets are considered too esoteric for the average resident to understand. Citizens have difficulty deciphering how much is allocated for their children’s schools, their local hospitals, parks and infrastructure, and public safety. With the help of ADVA, residents are empowered with knowledge and the tools to effectively petition for basic needs. This year, in addition to broad-based education, ADVA will be reaching out to women inside villages across Israel to look at budgets through a gender lens, asking such questions as, “How much is being spent on childcare? Adult education? Prenatal care and education?”
Pardes Channa-Karkur is a town about an hour’s drive south of Haifa. It was founded by Jewish immigrants from Yemen and Mumbai, India and has since grown to a town of about 40,000 residents. From the citrus groves still dotting the town, Pardes Channa-Karkur reflects its agricultural origins. Yet, the town today is disadvantaged. Over 50% of residents are in search of employment; fewer than 2/3 of high school students graduate; and under 15% of the population has a post-graduate degree. ADVA is stepping in to work with residents who are seeking social change in the community. Over an intense, year-long session, ADVA activists work across diverse populations to understand residents’ most urgent needs. Residents learn to understand how national and local budgets affect their lives. And, finally, they acquire both the tools and the network to leads social projects bettering their entire town.
The impact of this work has many layers. Residents are brought together in service of shared goals and community-building. Residents become active citizens empowered to take charge of their own lives. Finally, social projects are launched, by and for town residents, with the type of laser-focused goals that only local citizens could ever put together.
For over thirty years, New Israel Fund of Canada has worked shoulder to shoulder with NGOs in Israel like ADVA on behalf of civil rights for all citizens. We work in the areas of economic justice, civil rights, religious pluralism, and women’s rights. Our approach is exemplified in our work with ADVA: understanding root causes of inequality from the ground-up and working alongside Israelis across society to realize their own potential.
Israel’s High Court of Justice has given the Israeli government 30 days to explain why women should not be allowed to read from the Torah at the women’s section of the Kotel (Western Wall). This latest ruling, which appears to set the stage for a major religious pluralism victory, follows three years of court discussions on a range of petitions by NIF grantees including Women of the Wall, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), and the Masorti (Conservative) Movement.
The High Court of Justice also outlawed the intrusive body searches of women entering the plaza conducted by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Further, in the injunction the justices wrote that the pluralist prayer section established at the southern end of the Western Wall, known as Robinson’s Arch, does not constitute an equal alternative to the central Western Wall prayer sections because it lacks full access to the wall itself.
“Just when it seemed the rabbinate’s power was overwhelming, the court’s verdict regarding our demand to read Torah at the women’s section of the Western Wall reflects both courage and wisdom,” said Anat Hoffman, head of Women of the Wall.
“Today, we have come much closer to implementation of the Western Wall agreement on gender equality and religious freedom at the Wall. I am elated because when I was looking for justice, and then courage, they were missing, and now the highest court in the land has shown me both.”
Photo via Women of the Wall Facebook page; Photo by Miriam Alster
Following years of relentless activism, the Arab-Jewish Citizens Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee achieved a major coup for the residents of Israel’s north: The government announced that it would allocate NIS 930 million to improve health services in the northern periphery.
The amount will be allocated over four years. More than half of the amount is earmarked to increase local health fund budgets for additional medical staff, equipment, and facilities in order to shorten wait times for appointments with doctors, with specialists, and for diagnostic tests. This will be a critical improvement in healthcare for northern residents like Lali Gratzia, a resident of Kibbutz Dafna, who waited four months for a breast ultra-sound only to be diagnosed with cancer that had already spread to her lymph nodes.
The remaining funds will go toward upgrading urgent care and well-infant care. More than NIS 100 million will fund the establishment of sorely needed rehabilitation facilities at Poriya hospital. All of these decisions are in-line with recommendations made by the government’s Grotto Committee for the Expansion of Health Services in the North, for which the activists have been intensively advocating.
And if that weren’t news enough, last week, Israel’s Channel Two prime-time television news aired a two-part exposé on the dire situation of health care in the northern periphery. Lev Aran, Shatil Health Forum Coordinator, explains the significance of this media attention: “Having the most popular TV news show cover our struggle is a major milestone or the Forum and for residents of the north. Two more networks are courting us as well.” The Forum provided many of the personal stories and professional points of view in the broadcast.
“Shatil advocacy and media experts as well as field workers supported and guided our work,” says Lev. “But these achievements are a result of the solidarity and cooperative work of the Arab-Jewish Forum. Volunteers are the source of our strength. What began as a Shatil training four years ago has blossomed into a full-fledged social change movement.”
Still, as Shatil advocacy expert Hovav Yanai points out, “This is a triumph, but more hard work lies ahead to ensure implementation.”
But the Forum is not daunted. In the Channel 2 report, Dr. Naji Bathis (who, as one of the only dermatologists in the Galilee and the Golan, works out of seven different clinics) explains his motivation: “I’m not emotionally prepared to work in private practice; I want to invest in the region where I live.”
“When I hear this, I see a different and healing reality, a truly shared society of Arabs and Jews, with shared responsibility for improving health care in the north: more than a shared life, it’s a shared struggle,” says Shatil’s Lev.
Once again, the NIFC-funded Shatil Shared Society group in Karmiel pushed boundaries and made headlines when city officials said that a film about Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel could not be screened in a public community center.
The city revoked the group’s permission to screen the award-winning film “Junction 48” in a city facility following complaints from Deputy Mayor Rotem Yanai of the Jewish Home party.
The film, co-written by popular Palestinian Israeli rapper Tamer Nafar, is inspired by Nafar’s life story: His childhood in a crime-filled mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood in Lod inspired him to create hip hop songs expressing “rage without hate…to large audiences without selling out.”
Nafar made headlines last month when his Haifa concert – which Culture Minister Miri Regev had tried to ban – was disrupted by right-wing protesters.
Last year, the Karmiel municipality also tried to ban a film by controversial director Mohammad Bakri in a city auditorium that the Karmiel Shared Society group wanted to screen. The municipality ultimately allowed the event to go forward.
Shatil Shared Society Coordinator Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija says she is encouraged by the support she has received for the screening, including the personal intervention of a right-leaning city council member.
The controversy highlights the vast differences between some city officials and those working to build a sense of a shared society in the city. In early November, the Karmiel group held a conference about different models of shared cities, which provided fuel for those opposed to the current film screening.
Deputy Mayor Yanai explained to the Mako news site: “Just last week, a conference was held in the city under the headline, ‘Life in a Mixed City.’ It is important to clarify that Karmiel was not and will not be a mixed city. We welcome all the surrounding residents with love, but Karmiel was established with the goal of Judaizing the Galilee.”
As this story goes to press, the Karmiel Shared Society group announced that it will screen the film in an alternate location in the city.
The 1,100 Arab families in Karmiel have no Arabic language schools, after-school activities, library books, or other cultural offerings. Arabic is absent from public spaces and, furthermore, the city is failing to fulfill its legal obligation to provide transportation for Arab students to schools in neighboring towns. In response, Shatil is facilitating a group of Arab and Jewish activists who are putting the rights of the town’s Arab citizens on the public agenda and forging a shared public space for Jewish and Arab residents to access.
Photo via Yoni Lerner on Flickr
In the midst of our busy fundraising season, we received an inquiry from one of our youngest supporters.
Abie*, age 9, has been working on a class assignment about charities. Each student is required to choose a charity to learn about, and they are asked to create a presentation for their class about that organization.
Abie has always learned about treating people fairly. He and his family also have always loved Israel. Perhaps for these reasons, Abie chose to focus on New Israel Fund of Canada.
We sat down with Abie to speak about what we do. He said, “I know that you help people in Israel. But I don’t know who you help and what you do to help them.” We had to try and simplify the intense, sometimes long process of the work that we do for a nine-year-old to understand. So, to begin, we told Abie about this story:
A single mother living in Israel fell on hard times as a result of a chronic illness and was unable to pay her utility bills. The water company disconnected this woman’s water because she had not paid her bills and now had no running water in her home.
We discussed how important water is to every one of us, whether for drinking or handwashing or for cleaning. Having access to water is a basic right.
With no one to turn to, this woman called the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI). NIFC provides funding to ACRI for a public hotline providing critical information on the caller’s rights in a myriad of languages.
Through the hotline, the woman spoke with a lawyer at ACRI about her issue. ACRI fought on behalf of the woman and three other families whose water was disconnected for the same reasons.
As a result, in 2014, ACRI helped stop automatic water dismissal for poor families unable to pay their bills. This was a major achievement for all Israelis.
We told Abie that this is how we help people in Israel: by making sure that everyone has the same rights, whether they are poor or wealthy, whether they are women or men or whether they are old or young.
Children understand fairness. They are consistently trying to square equality, especially when they look around at their siblings and fellow students. This story and the work that we do resonated with Abie because he grasps equality in a way that is quite simple. Or, as Abie called it, “Even-Steven.”
Equipped with stories and facts, Abie is approaching his class with the best of what we do. And with his deep understanding and support of NIFC, he inspired us as much as we inspired him.
As this year draws to a close, we want you, our supporters, to know that we draw much strength and inspiration from your commitment and faith in us. Some of you have been with us for many years, and some of you are new to us. But each year, I am struck by how much you give of yourselves to keep NIFC thriving. You do this as volunteers, as funders but also as good friends to us and to our colleagues in Israel.
We’re proud of our long, accomplished partnership that made the following strides in 2016 possible:
- * With your help, Jewish- and Arab-Israelis came together to close the health gap and improve the state of health services in northern Israel.
- * A landmark ruling this year supported by NIFC has given Eritrean asylum seekers hope of attaining refugee status, as the Ministry of the Interior can now no longer reject applications for asylum without due process.
- *The result of tireless work by NIFC activists, women in Israel now have a greater say in how they practice certain religious rituals, and the way has been paved for more education on domestic violence and women’s health issues.
On behalf of all of us in Israel and Canada, many thanks to you all for your continuous generosity.
*not his real name
Two weeks ago, devastating fires raged across Israel. While some ultra nationalist politicians attempted to exploit the moment to sound messages of racism and of discord, NIFC-funded Shatil saw a unique opportunity to bring Jews and Arabs together for dialogue and joint-action.
Activists in Shatil’s Haifa as a Shared City initiative came together in areas of Israel damaged by fires and spoke out via social and conventional media. Their message was one of hope, of optimism, and of cooperation, as opposed to the racism and incitement emanating from many government officials. In their reports to the media, activists emphasized the assistance offered by Palestinian Israelis, who opened their homes and communities to Jews displaced by the fires.
“During the Gaza War, Shatil organized these groups to act; but this time, the groups are initiating actions on their own,” noted Shatil Haifa Branch Director Fathi Marshood.
The fact that all municipal department heads had participated in Shatil multicultural trainings helped Haifa maintain an atmosphere of cooperation and solidarity under crisis.
Shatil is now seeing a surge in interest from new players wanting to promote joint living. Shahira Shalabi, coordinator of Shatil’s NIFC-funded Leadership for a Shared Society training said: “There is a new generation of leaders working toward a shared society. Everywhere you look, you see groups of Jews and Arabs working together again…”
In fact, 100 people applied for 40 places in a recent training. Also, on November 29th, the second cohort of Shatil’s Lowering the Walls: Leaders Combatting Racism in Jerusalem training launched with 57 people applying for 26 spaces. The participants represent an unusually wide variety of populations, including school principals, businesspeople, organization heads, city officials, lawyers, college lecturers, and artists who are religious, secular, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Palestinian, Ethiopian-Israeli, and Haredi.
The caliber of the applicants for both courses was especially encouraging: most are already involved in shared society or anti-racism initiatives and are in positions to influence wide formal and informal networks.
“Interviewing potential participants was inspiring,” says Lowering the Walls project coordinator Yael Porat. “We met amazing people working for change who are optimistic even in these difficult times. We were so happy to learn of the many shared society initiatives in Jerusalem in which the applicants have been involved.”
Program participant Avshalom Noama, manager of the bar “Hamakom” in Jerusalem’s city center, said: “For 20 years I’ve struggled with myself to stay in Jerusalem, but I’m still here, and still committed to changing life here.”
NIF’s CEO Daniel Sokatch recently said: “We know that the change isn’t going to come from Israel’s political leaders. This future is going to be forged from the bottom up out of Israel’s civil society.” These amazing activists are a testament to a more equal, more democratic Israel.
A Reform synagogue in Ra’anana was vandalized in a hate crime just before Thanksgiving. Graffiti referring to biblical passages was sprayed on the walls of the Kehilat Ra’anan synagogue and envelopes containing death threats against Reform leaders were left outside the building.
“The divine presence will never leave the Western Wall” was sprayed on the front of the synagogue, alongside the references “Ovadia 18 and 21” and “Psalms 139:21-22.” The verses from Ovadia tell of the destruction of Israel’s enemies at the hand of a vengeful God, and the passage from Psalms reads as follows: “Did I not hate Your enemies, O Lord? With those who rise up against You, I quarrel. I hate them with utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.”
The death threats specifically targeted Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism in America; and Israel Reform Action Center (IRAC) director Anat Hoffman. All three have been active in the campaign to create an egalitarian plaza at the Western Wall.
In response, Rabbi Kariv said: “This attack shows the urgent need to present a different type of Judaism to the public. We can’t let this hateful Judaism set the tone in Israel. These acts will not stop us from demanding our rights at the Kotel and continuing our educational and spiritual work across the country. We expect the Israeli leadership to understand that this is the time to draw a red line under this wave of incitement…Israeli politicians are not taking these threats seriously enough and we need to act before it’s too late and before we see acts of bloodshed.”
The Kehilat Ra’anan synagogue faced similar attacks in January 2014.
Following the incident, NIF grantee Tag Meir organized a solidarity visit to the synagogue.
Photo via Facebook
Religious racism and incitement to violence are problems that Israel can’t afford to ignore. On Monday, in response to the legal petition filed by NIF grantees Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and Tag Meir, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to press charges against Rabbi Yosef Elitzur for his publications that incite to violence. The charges are based on his articles and his infamous 2013 book Torat Hamelech, which encourage Price Tag violence. Elitzur’s publications preach that we must cause ”greater damage to the body and possessions of Arabs” and encourage young boys to take part in terrorist activities such as setting churches and mosques on fire.
Orly Erez-Likhovski, head of IRAC’s legal department, said that “the decision to prosecute Rabbi Elitzur, who for years has preached racism and violence, is the right decision, even if it is very late. Rabbi Elitzur voiced and published many inflammatory words that influenced his students, many of who have been involved in terrorist activities against Arabs. Only aggressive treatment of the serious phenomenon of incitement will make it so rabbis cease to use their status to preach hatred and hostility. These days, when racist incitement and violence is a daily occurrence, we must relearn that ‘humans are precious for they were created in God’s image.’”
The charges send a clear message that religious racism and violence will not be tolerated. They represent one more step towards a more just, more equal Israel.
Thanks to the grassroots campaign by NIF partner Zazim, 6,000 Bedouin residents – including hundreds of kids – will soon have access to a safe pedestrian crossing.
A newly constructed superhighway completely cut off al-Krin and al-Ukbi, two unrecognized Negev Bedouin villages. Six thousand residents couldn’t reach their doctor or school without risking a deadly highway crossing.
Last month, Zazim launched a call to action. Israelis sent thousands of emails and made dozens of phone calls demanding a safe crosswalk. Following the public outcry, the CEO of Netivei Israel, the national infrastructure company responsible for the highway, went to see the problem for himself. After his visit, he accepted Zazim’s demands in full and agreed to construct a safe pedestrian crossing.
Following the announcement, Zazim put out a statement saying, “Together, we made a real difference in the lives of thousands of people and publicly echoed the voice of some of the most silenced communities in Israel. Victories like these drive us forward…the power we have when we act together never ceases to amaze us.”
Last week, Americans elected Donald J. Trump as their next president. Civil rights organizations voiced hope that the next president will serve the needs of all Americans. This appeal underscored the fear of many that Trump’s tenure will place civil rights in peril, especially among ethnic and religious minorities, women, and the nation’s most disadvantaged. The sheer surprise of an unexpected victory has been slowly replaced by distress – anxiety over the prospect of racial and gender discrimination, threats to environmental protections and rights of immigrants, and the upending of legislation guaranteeing free speech protection to those who voice critical concern and dissent. From anxiety has come paralysis, denial, and hopelessness. Citizens who hold dear the values of civil rights and equality have openly wondered, “What now?” In an unprecedented age, we thirst for role models who stand before impending threats and address them head-on.
To those citizens and followers everywhere of the U.S.’s new reality, I present to you a community of valiant optimists, an army of believers in hope, a group made up of the most persistent, strategic, bravest, and innovative individuals who address the threat to civil rights every single day. These individuals show by example how to persevere in tough times and fight in the long struggle for justice.
Who are these stalwarts of civil society? They are Jewish and Arab, Haredi and secular. They are economists and social workers, students and government workers. They are Israeli activists. NIFC partners with these individuals to protect asylum seekers’ right to due process; to ensure that rural Arab-Israelis get the same healthcare as urban and Jewish-Israelis; to empower girls in ultra-Orthodox communities through legal and halakhic means.
This past weekend, NIFC welcomed Rawnak Natour and Ron Gerlitz, the co-Executive Directors of Sikkuy, an Israeli charity dedicated to equality among Arab- and Jewish-Israelis. Ron and Rawnak described in detail their recent successes in the realm of shared society. Earlier this year, the Knesset passed a bill ensuring full “transportation equality”, bringing public transportation to Arab villages for the first time. Sikkuy was behind the passage of a bill that will allocate USD$4 billion of the Israeli national budget towards their Arab-Israeli population, shoring up disparities among Jewish- and Arab-Israelis in public schools, in housing, in employment, and in neighbourhood-level infrastructure.
Ron and Rawnak and activists like them have reason to stop dead in their tracks and ask, “What now?” They have faced resistance to civil rights policies, personal threats by both Jews and Arabs, and, at times, significant setbacks to their initiatives. They have lived amidst citizens who support segregation and sexual discrimination. Yet, they have persevered, each day. Behind each of Sikkuy’s achievements are years of incremental, patient, resilient effort.
NIFC has been a proud partner of these and hundreds more activists for over thirty years. Donors have been drawn by these activists’ sincerity of mission and ingenuity in practice. Today, donors have one more reason to support these truly extraordinary individuals. They serve as exemplars of hope in the face of threat, persistence amidst panic, dogged optimism in place of despair. Every individual who seeks an answer to “What now?” would do well to follow in the footsteps of NIFC’s partners in Israel.
To all of our donors, thank you for your contributions in 2016. To readers who are still determining your giving, I urge you to support NIFC and its partners in Israel, both for their sake and for ours.
The NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship is a one-of-a kind 10 month experience where fellows spend 4 days a week on the front lines of social change in Israel at a premiere Israeli non-governmental (NGO) social change organization.
This year, Canada proudly sent Sam Winer to Israel as our Canadian fellow to work with the Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem. Hand in Hand brings together thousands of Jews and Arabs in six schools and communities throughout Israel.
We recently spoke with Sam in Jerusalem.
How did you come to decide on Hand and Hand as the NGO you wanted to work for this year?
I chose Hand in Hand because it relates to my background- I worked at Seeds of Peace, I created a dialogue group on campus. There are professionals here who have been working in this field for a long time, who I have a lot to learn from, so that was really appealing to me. One of my goals is to go into education in some way, and Hand in Hand had that to offer me. And by creating their programs, they’re creating messaging at the same time for what a shared society could look like, should look like.
Hand in Hand offered me a position where I could go into the school once a week and work with the kids, doing some tutoring and then be in the office three days a week. I also get to work with the parents through the community organizing that they do. So this really fit and I can do multi-disciplinary work.
What work here in Canada did you do that helped to prepare you for your time in Israel?
My best opportunity was working for JIAS, and that was my first opportunity to work in a non-profit setting. In that office, I worked on various types of non-profit management tasks as well as direct services like teaching English to senior citizens who’d moved to Toronto. So that prepared me for a non-profit setting. And the other core experience that relates to this is that on campus, I created a dialogue group for Jewish students as well as Palestinian students around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that prepared me to put myself out there, community organizing, as well as using social media.
You’re the only Canadian in this group of Fellows. You’re finding out how that’s going to impact your perspective compared with others.
One thing that I learned quickly from the other fellows and other north Americans- how much JStreet deeply impacts their college experience. They’ve had really good experience community organizing. For me, there had to be a lot more self-education because there is no JStreet in Canada and there’s that gap.
Also, I think that being Canadian, multiculturalism is a huge value, and I think we can go deeper with that. I see with Hand in Hand that they don’t just want to accept each other, they want to live with each other and know each other.
You’ve just graduated from college with a host of options to consider. Why SJF?
I chose the SJF because I knew that I wanted to go back to Israel. I wanted to be in Jerusalem especially so I’m happy to be here. What’s awesome about the SJF is that it has such a range of options that it really allowed me to figure out what I specifically wanted. And it allowed me to get a job that I could really effectively learn that matched my skills and allowed me to advance them at the same time.
What kind of advice do people give you, from the mundane to the idealistic, about your year in Israel?
Be kind, take advantage of the opportunities since I don’t know how long I’ll be here or what I’ll be doing. And find the work-life balance. You know, working for an organization where the material is very heavy even if there are lots of cute kids and optimism, there are also a lot of challenges and negativity. And you can’t take it personally. When I was trying to decide, my dad said, “If you do what you care about, it will be the best thing for you. Don’t worry about it.”
Born in Siberia, 29-year-old Zoya Levitin is a member of “Generation 1.5” – children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union whose job it was to translate social security documents to their parents and who knew about taxes by second grade.
“Our parents didn’t know what they were coming to. And they came with very little. We grew up fast,” says Zoya. “We didn’t experience childhood like my seven-year-old son is. I was a latchkey kid at a very young age. Today, I say to myself, there is no way my third grade son will come home alone.
“The media called these immigrants prostitutes and drunks. At the same time, we were told we had to be Israelis and that meant not being Russian, so we decided to distance ourselves from our language and culture and, many times, from our parents.
“My home is here and I’m not willing to give up on it, but for many long years I had very hard feelings about this place. I felt this country was spitting me out.”
Zoya is also part of a new generation of feminist activists. A student of gender studies at the Open University, Zoya says, “More women are struggling for their place. The movement is widening. As [feminist activist and author] belle hooks said, feminism is for everyone.”
She began reading about feminism and didn’t stop.
Reading led to writing, and writing led to an assignment in 2012 to write a column for Saluna, a leading Israeli blog. “From that moment I haven’t stopped writing about feminism, social action, and politics,” says Zoya.
Her journey to becoming a change maker flowed naturally from her new interests. Zoya was first introduced to social activism though friends who were involved in the 2011 social justice protests and she went on to help organize Israel’s first “slut walk.” She has also taken part in other women’s rights causes, including working to overturn the statute of limitations on sex crimes.
Zoya found out about Shatil’s Everett Social Justice Fellowship program through Facebook. The program enabled her to use her life experiences, activism, and interests to advance other Russian-speaking women. Through her fellowship, she connected with NIF grantee Morashteinu, an organization that gives voice to Russian-speaking immigrants who believe in democratic values. In addition to preparing a racism report and other work for the organization, Zoya organized a group of Russian-speaking women who met weekly to discuss and learn about issues relating to women and immigration from a personal and professional perspective.
“We brought in a different speaker each week who shed light on another aspect of Russian women’s experiences: MKs, researchers, activists, Mizrahi women leaders, women who told of the Kavkazi women’s experience. The growth in awareness and knowledge was profound and enabled each of the women – myself included – to connect her personal and professional life to these issues. The women still tell me how much they got out of this group and that makes me very happy. What particularly stands out is their desire to act on these issues.”
The Everett program gave Zoya a newfound confidence, introduced her to “the most phenomenal people,” and helped her broaden her horizons. In the enrichment sessions, Fellows are introduced to a wide-range of issues, many of which they have little to no previous knowledge about, such as a session on the Bedouin land struggle. “I was given a free hand at Morashteinu and I got to do things I really wanted to do. The women’s group was a dream come true. Everett is the best internship students can do. You don’t make coffee or file. You do meaningful work and really feel part of the social change world in Israel.”
The Everett Social Justice Fellowships, which begins its new year next month with 43 interns, places Israeli university students in internships in social change organizations around the country, offering a stipend and an enrichment program. Of last years’ interns, eight have continued on as volunteers in their organizations, two joined their organization’s boards, and two became staff members.
On Wednesday, NIF’s Kick It Out (KIO), which utilizes soccer to address racism in Israeli society, organized a special event to mark FARE Football People Action Week. Throughout the week, communities from across Europe come together to fight discrimination. The first part of the KIO event was a panel discussion featuring prominent Jewish and Arab figures from the world of Israeli football and was moderated by two leading sports journalists.
The discussion focused on how to use soccer to combat racism and to promote shared living, with an emphasis on the role athletes should play to encourage tolerance. The discussion was extremely lively: one of the most controversial topics was whether or not Arab players should be expected to sing the national anthem. Most of the panelists – whether Jewish or Arab – said that it should be up to the individual. Israeli national team manager Elisha Levy said “We don’t force players to sing the anthem; everyone respects one another.”
The conference was widely covered in the Israeli media and was broadcast live on Israel’s leading sports website. Afterwards, there was a tournament at Hapoel Haifa’s Kiryat Stadium featuring six Jewish and Arab teams from around the country.
What we read in the papers as well as our own concerns often point us towards discrimination among ethnicities, cultures, and religions in Israel. In fact, geographic discrimination is behind a radical disparity in healthcare for Israelis on the periphery. Despite universal healthcare in Israel, the distribution, quality, and access to healthcare divides along geographic lines. New Israel Fund of Canada proudly funds the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). In addition to extraordinary advances in equal housing, employment rights, and the right to free speech, ACRI recently attracted national attention for its fight on behalf of rural and exurban Israeli residents who suffer from healthcare inequality.
The numbers paint a grim picture: the number of beds inside rehabilitation hospitals in the south and north of Israel totals only one fifth the capacity in the Tel Aviv area and one half of the national average. There are zero beds currently available for children in need of rehabilitation in the south and north of Israel. And outpatient rehabilitation centers in those areas suffer from lack of accessibility and quality compared with central Israel.
As NIFC-funded Shatil has reported, individuals residing in northern Israel suffer from illnesses more often, are hospitalized more frequently and, on average, can expect to live for a shorter period of time than other Israelis. Healthcare inequality is linked to these differences.
This means that a child living in the upper Galilee may never fully recover from a school yard fall because he does not receive immediate and comprehensive treatment. That can lead to infections or complications from inadequate care. An injury for which full recovery is possible may debilitate an Israeli’s success in employment and quality of life throughout adulthood.
In response to broad scale geographic discrimination in this area, ACRI recently filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to demand healthcare equality reform.
Galia Ganon, a resident of Kiryat Gat in southern Israel and one of ACRI’s petitioners, describes the process of seeking care for her son Shai and daughter Doron after a devastating accident. They were treated at Sheba Medical Center, 70 kilometers north in Tel Aviv for nearly a year. Says Galia: “Doron’s hospitalization period lasted 10 months, I was by her side from the moment she woke up […] until she went to sleep. Since we live in the south of the country, I had to sleep in a hotel next to the hospital. It was a trying, sad and lonely period in which I was on my own and far away from home most of the time.”
As with others that ACRI has brought before the High Court, the current petition filed seeks to further strengthen the potential that lies within every Israeli. It seeks to correct a preventable inequity and encourages the celebration of Israel’s guarantee of universal healthcare across society.
As Canadians, we value the right to healthcare. We understand its vital importance perhaps more so than in many countries, both in North America and abroad. New Israel Fund of Canada has funded efforts to secure equality in healthcare for all Israelis through Shatil’s healthcare equity efforts to attract qualified doctors to work in peripheral regions as well as to monitor the quality of medical care in the north. Because we have worked for over three decades across Israeli society, issues like healthcare inequality are ones we can identify, and, ultimately, reform.
Healthcare inequality in Israel does not reach the headlines of our papers here in Canada very often. Neither do issues like the need for public transportation in Arab villages; Mizrahi Jewish discrimination; the gender wage gap; and alternative kosher supervision among modern Orthodox Israelis. Because we are entrenched deep inside of Israel, NIFC does know about these issues. And, we’re proud of the impact we’ve had in addressing them.
The Supreme Court has chastised the government for failing to establish a permanent pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall. The remarks took place at a hearing regarding a 2013 petition against the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the Prime Minister’s Office. The petitioners included a number of NIF grantees – the Reform Movement, Hiddush, Be Free Israel, the Masorti movement, and others.
In a statement, Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of NIF grantee Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), said: “We are gratified that the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has accepted our long-held argument that the Western Wall cannot be held hostage by a minority sect. They [the judges] actually used the term ‘for God’s sake’ to demand that the government implement its decision to have a pluralistic plaza right next to the traditional plaza where women, Reform and Conservative Jews can pray as is their custom.”
In January, the state agreed to create a permanent pluralistic prayer section in the Robinson’s Arch area, and to create a new management committee in which all streams of Judaism were represented.
Following the hearing, Attorney Yizhar Hess, the head of Israel’s Masorti (Conservative) movement, said: “I would cautiously say I’m happy for the Kotel deal, but it’s a shonda [an embarrassment], a mistake, that the government cannot implement its decisions. It tells you something about the government of the State of Israel.”
The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has launched a campaign against the extremist group Lehava. Lehava members are infamous for racist rhetoric and acts of violence. For instance, they have threatened Jerusalem restaurant owners with violence if they employ Arabs, and last month the group rioted at the Manofim Arts Festival because it featured an Armenian church choir (Tag Meir, another NIF grantee, responded by organizing an additional evening of choir performances).
Each week, Lehava members hand out “anti-assimilation” flyers to passersby in the heart of Jerusalem. Rabbi Noah Sattah, the head of the Reform Center for Religion and State, said: “On Thursday evening, there are few adults and many minors and at-risk youth who hear incitement against Arabs. Their marches and their calls against Arabs create an atmosphere of fear and terror in the city center. We hear from Arabs that they’re avoiding the Zion Square area during the weekend because they’re afraid they will be attacked.”
The Reform Center has filed over 25 complaints to the police against the group’s leader, Benzi Gopstein, and another 50 against other Lehava members. None of these have led to an indictment. IRAC has also interviewed and filmed Arab workers (video) describing their experiences with Lehava.
Earlier this month, IRAC, Shatil, and NIF grantees the Coalition Against Racism, and Tag Meir, held a rally in support of shared living in downtown Jerusalem, entitled “Freeing Jerusalem from the Flames of Hatred – For We Be Brethren”. Hundreds of people attended. Tag Meir leader Gadi Gevaryahu said: “Lehava members operate under the guise of fighting against assimilation in order to increase the hate and violence against Arabs. They do so with incessant incitement on social media and at a stand in Zion Square in Jerusalem.”
But Lehava’s extremism is prompting a response from Israelis committed to equality. It can be seen in the efforts of IRAC and in the growing impact of groups like Tag Meir. These groups – alongside many other allies – are working not only to counter Lehava, but to build a better Israel; a place where people come together across religious and ethnic lines to live in one, truly shared, society.
It began organically. As the town of Givat Ela – a Jewish community village of 2,000 in the north of Israel – grew, new neighborhoods brought the community physically closer to the neighboring Palestinian-Israeli town of Ilut. Many Ilut residents – mostly women – also find it convenient to come to Givat Ela to walk and young Ilut families enjoy Givat Ela’s playgrounds.
But some residents wanted more organized contact. “Some of us simply wanted to get closer to our neighbors in order to increase mutual understanding,” said Yael Fogelman, a founding resident of Givat Ela.
“We began planning a joint walk for our two communities in these beautiful surroundings we share,” said Yael, a social worker and graduate of the first cohort of NIFC-funded Shatil’s Leadership for Shared Society course. The second round recently began with 40 participants.
Givat Ela residents began an initiative aimed at connecting the residents of the neighboring towns. In order to get the initiative off the ground, Yael decided to join the Shatil course.
“The people, ideas and projects we were exposed to in the course helped me better formulate and develop this idea,” Yael said. “It widened my perspective as well as our small organizing group.”
In the initial meetings, the focus veered toward problems with their Arab neighbors. Newer residents were bothered by the call of the muezzin. Others said they were upset by the smell of animal carcasses improperly disposed.
“It’s amazing to see the change in our group from before the Shatil course and after,” says Yael. “Shatil’s Mohammad Khalil, who guided the course, came to one of our meetings and completely turned our heads around. After listening to us, he noted that we were working from a place of condescension rather than collaboration. That had a strong influence on the group. Sometimes you have to give people a different pair of lenses through which to see. We changed our perspective.”
Since then, and with support from the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and the Ilut Local Council, the group hired NIFC-funded Givat Haviva to guide them in their efforts. Givat Haviva first did a survey of the two communities to determine people’s attitudes towards joint action. The results were mixed, but both communities’ leadership decided to run with the project. The next step was to form steering committees in both communities and the group is currently working on establishing one joint steering committee from these two groups.
Shortly after the course, a formal meeting with group members, representatives of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council, the Ilut Local Council, and the leadership of Givat Ela met at the office of the mayor of Ilut to officially launch the project.
“It’s a long, slow process, but we’re trying to do it right,” said Yael. “One thing I learned at Shatil: Things like this take time.”
Shatil’s’ Leadership for Shared Society course aims to create a network of Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish leaders who formulate and implement models and projects to promote equality and better relations among Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens. The course meets in both Jewish and Arab locales throughout the country. Participants learn from the successes and failures of other activists and build a network for increased impact.
A new survey has found that Israelis are opposed to the country’s current religious policies. The Israel Religion and State Index, carried out by the Smith Institute on behalf of NIF grantee Hiddush, assessed the views of 700 Israeli Jewish Adults.
The survey found that 73% want public transportation on Shabbat, 72% want to defund yeshivas that don’t teach core subjects, two-thirds support the (now suspended) Western Wall compromise, and 83% want ultra-Orthodox Jews to share the burden of national service. 71% support greater freedom for Israeli Jews to marry and divorce without rabbinic interference.
Hiddush CEO Uri Regev said: “The Index reveals the government’s total disregard for the public’s will regarding matters of religious and freedom and equality of civic burden. The divide between the will of the public and the government coalition’s actions is increasing . . . The gap between the people’s will and the will and actions of the Coalition continues to grow. If [the Coalition] is selling out the public for the mere pittance of continuing to stay in office, while the Opposition is looking to a possible future partnership with the ultra-Orthodox parties, which is why they don’t fight the government in matters of religion and state. This should be a warning sign to the secular parties.”
Earlier this month, 700 Canadians joined New Israel Fund of Canada for its annual Shira Herzog Symposium in Toronto. Called Activism Without Limits, the event centred around the Israelis we support who work in all spheres of society to strengthen equality for all residents. At its core, this event was a call to action for all of us to share in the responsibility for Israel’s future – because we can make a difference.
The event featured acclaimed author David Grossman in an exclusive appearance on behalf of NIFC. Activist Nabila Espanioly, Holy Blossom Temple Senior Rabbi Yael Splansky, New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch, Canadian-Israeli author Ayelet Tsabari, and The Walrus Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kay all participated.
The theme of this event originated in the decisions that Israelis make to speak out rather than stay silent. Even in the midst of challenges in their society, ordinary Israelis push further, work harder, and gird themselves to further strengthen the country they love. Some of these Israelis are activists whose efforts we proudly support like Sikkuy Co-Executive Directors Rawnak Natour and Ron Gerlitz or civil rights lawyer Sharon Abraham-Weiss of ACRI (the Association of Civil Rights in Israel).
Others, like Grossman and Espanioly, have day jobs. Like each of us, they could choose passivity and inaction. They could choose to lead a noble life in their chosen professions. And, yet, they choose to do even more.
Our symposium speakers described their decisions to intentionally work for a more just Israel within and beyond their professional lives. Each of these individuals made a choice – the CHOICE to act.
It is this choice that tied the individuals on stage with the activists in Israel whom we have supported for over thirty years. I speak with our partners in Israel every week. The Israel they describe looks even brighter than their Israel today. And these exceptional men and women choose action. They choose transformation. And they make that choice every day.
David Grossman began his talk by describing the anxieties of the characters in his book, To the End of the Land. Among them, he depicted a mother who worries for her son now in the IDF. He then expanded on this particular matzav, or, “the situation” in Israel. This situation assumes an underlying and constant level of concern, he said, from existential to graphically real.
Grossman argued that this perpetual state of concern – the anxieties of Israelis – is blind to partisan divides. As he hoped for a society in which Israelis refused to settle for the conditions underlying this concern, he urged those in the audience to have empathy for what it takes to live in Israel today. Said Grossman, “Be fair, treat with respect the anxieties of Israelis from left AND right – there are reasons for them.”
David Grossman described his own personal tragedy in the face of his son’s tragic death as a soldier in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. And, in the wake of it, he took “comfort in silence” and was tempted to continue to take refuge in it, even though he was in the midst of completing a book. Yet, he was compelled to act, to persevere. As Grossman described it, he took solace ultimately not in silence but in speaking out. Grossman not only continued to write. As a proud supporter of New Israel Fund of Canada, he also continued to speak out for peace and equality.
Now facing the crowd, Grossman urged the audience to do the same: “Your Israel, and mine, is worth fighting for.”
Echoing Grossman’s remarks, Rabbi Yael Splansky urged supporters to act at the cusp of Rosh Hashanah. “It is one thing to hear the shofar. It’s another to be the shofar.”
NIFC Board President Joan Garson seized the current moment in her appeal to supporters in the crowd. “Each of us has our own story, but we are linked in our shared destiny and sense of responsibility for Israel. We may not agree on the solutions but we agree on the need. We need the conversations, we need the democracy.”
Said David Grossman at the conclusion of his speech, “When I listen to the good people who’ve spoken for the past hour about the wonderful work of the NIF … I am reminded of what Jerry Seinfeld’s mother once said to him: ‘How can anyone not love you?'”
As we approach the new year, we each have the choice to act, to determine our own commitment towards an Israel of equal rights and equal opportunity. Supporting New Israel Fund of Canada means supporting individuals on the ground making a difference every day. I hope you will join us as supporters, as volunteers, and as fellow activists on behalf of Israel.
Photo of David Grossman speaking at the symposium by Mark Tennenhouse. See more photos on our Facebook page.
In a major development for Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel, the Jerusalem Appeals Tribunal ruled that the government’s position that Eritrean army deserters are not entitled to refugee status is a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. This follows a petition filed two years ago by NIFC partner Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and the Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic on behalf of an Eritrean asylum seeker. The court ruled that desertion from the army of Eritrea can be grounds for asylum if it was seen as a political act by that country and if it was followed by severe punishment.
The ruling means that the government will not be able to reject applications for asylum from Eritreans out-of-hand. Between 2009 and July 2016, Eritreans submitted 7,218 asylum requests. Only eight were approved, while 3,105 are still awaiting a response. The rest were rejected or withdrawn.
Elad Azar, the custody judge who heard the case in Jerusalem, said: “Even in the completely theoretical case in which it was found that refugee status had to be granted to all those asylum seekers, I believe this isn’t a quantity Israel is incapable of digesting or that would lead to unreasonable results, given that in any case, all of them are expected to remain in Israel for a long time even if their applications are rejected… Limiting the protection given under the Refugee Convention by not applying it to people entitled to refugee status, just because there are many of them, doesn’t comply with the Refugee Convention or the rules of Israeli administrative law.”
Reut Michaeli, executive director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said: “It’s regrettable that judicial intervention was needed so that the Interior Ministry would apply the rules of the Refugee Convention, to which Israel is committed, instead of trying to find tortuous ways of circumventing them. In every Western country, large proportions of Eritrean asylum seekers are accepted as refugees, and just recently, another UN report revealed the torture, slave conditions, and systematic human rights violations that happen in the Eritrean army, and in the country in general. I hope that now, the asylum system will finally begin to operate in compliance with international standards.”
Inbal Rada trekked the scorching Ethiopian desert with a baby on her back wondering how – or even if – they would survive to reach Israel. Once they finally arrived, safely, to Israel, Inbal thought her struggles were over. She did not imagine that, years later, her life would be dedicated towards fighting racism against Ethiopian Jews and working to keep the community’s children safe from police brutality.
Today, Inbal is a busy woman. In addition to her job as head nurse in her hospital’s orthopedics department, she serves as a councilwoman in Ramle, and though her role in Temarach — the Shatil-led forum of Ethiopian-Israeli city council members — Inbal works with local police and community youth to reduce police brutality and the high incidence of youth arrests.
According to the Israel Prison Service, Ethiopian youth make up more than half the inmates in the country’s youth prison and are detained at a rate nearly 12 times higher than youth in the general population.
Last Monday Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheich publicly defended his officers for regularly stopping Ethiopian Israelis – and especially youth – on the streets, saying it is “natural” for police to be more suspicious of Ethiopians.
On one of Israeli radio’s most popular news broadcasts, Ziva Mekonen-Degu, head of NIF grantee Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, commented that “this is a black day for the nation of Israel.” He also called for Alsheich to be dismissed.
But Inbal Rada was not surprised.
“He’s just honestly describing the situation as it is,” Inbal said in a recent interview. “It’s sad and painful, but we’ve known for years that this is what goes on.”
Shatil’s Gidon Ambaye, who guides both Temarach and the Ramle Activists for Social Change, a group of Ethiopians-Israelis working to improve the lives of their community, agrees.
“Many people in the upper echelons feel this way, they just don’t express it. I’m not angry at Alsheich for telling the truth. No matter how sad, we have to cope with it.”
In an effort to reduce arrest rates as well as police violence against Ethiopian youth, the Ramle activists are working to transform relationships with local police to turn them into constructive partners and even allies. They established a dialogue, and police have addressed the activists and appeared at a special conference for Ethiopian-Israeli youth in August.
Rada says the youth – who often have trouble sitting still – were glued to their seats during the conference, listening with especially rapt attention as panelists spoke about ways young people can avoid arrest when approached by police on the street, as they too often are, as well as the rights and responsibilities of all citizens in these circumstances. Participants asked for another such event and the activists are planning to involve parents next time.
“I’m an optimist by nature,” said Inbal. “But I see how our youth react to the racism and rejection, the many comments on social media that say, “Go back where you came from.’ These kids were born here. They don’t even speak Amharic. After dreaming all our lives, we finally made it here. And now we ask ourselves, ‘How can this be? This is Am Yisrael?’
“I love this country and I know that state tries with its many programs. What is needed is not another program but education from the earliest ages….I don’t know what will be. We have a long road ahead to create change.”
The number of Palestinian Israeli teachers working in Jewish state schools has increased by 40% over the last few years, and has now reached 588. This is the result of an Education Ministry program run jointly with the Merchavim Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel. The program aims to integrate Palestinian Israeli teachers into Jewish schools, which helps promote shared living and tolerance.
The school subjects showing the largest increase in the number of Palestinian Israeli teachers (76%) are English, math, and science. The number of Palestinian Israeli teachers teaching Arabic language also showed a 40% increase between 2013 and 2016.
Eyal Ram , head of the Education Ministry’s Teaching Personnel Department, said the program aims to provide “an opportunity for a shared life and coexistence among the two sectors, and to offer a viable solution for the surplus of teachers among the Arab sector and for the shortage of English, math, and science teachers among the Jewish sector.”
Merchavim works to assist young people from different backgrounds to learn about each other, value their differences, develop a shared civic consciousness, and make their classrooms, schools, and communities more just.
Photo via Flickr — “The Teacher” by Andrew E. Larsen
Synagogue-and-state tensions have once again been grabbing headlines in Israel. The most recent salvo revolves around Prime Minister Netanyahu’s order last week to halt 17 out of 20 railway projects that were scheduled to take place over Shabbat, after Orthodox parties threatened to leave the coalition. Work began instead on Saturday night, leading to the cancellation of around 150 trains on the busy Tel Aviv-Haifa line on Sunday morning. This affected around 150,000 commuters, with a particularly major impact on IDF soldiers – Sunday is the day many soldiers return to base following weekend leave.
Last Saturday night, NIF grantee Be Free Israel organized protests, attended by hundreds of Israelis, against the shutdown. Opposition MKs attended the rally in Tel Aviv, including Meretz MKs Zehava Galon and Tamar Zandberg. Banners at the protests included “Bibi, this is our train too,” and “Let’s get the country back on track”.
In a statement, Be Free Israel said: “In 2016, this is a perfect representation of the whole story of religion and state in Israel….behaving like the kings and popes of Europe in the Middle Ages… demeaning and harming the population, as if we’re pawns in a game of chess.”
Finally, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an interim order preventing Prime Minister Netanyahu from banning railway construction on Shabbat. This followed a petition by Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On. In response, Netanyahu said: “I respect the decision of the Supreme Court… All citizens of Israel, secular and religious alike – should abide by this ruling and this decision.”
Photo via Flickr
Following a tumultuous week in Israel at the end of July, we asked Israeli human rights activist, professor emerita of Political Science and African Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, former Knesset Deputy Speaker and former NIF International board president Naomi Chazan (above left) for her take on some of those events. From the Knesset to Jerusalem’s recent gay pride parade, Chazan and New Israel Fund of Canada board president Joan Garson (above right) spoke about Israeli democracy, civic engagement and the fundamental principles of equality.
Incisive, informed and logical as ever, Chazan gave several examples of current events touching on these themes, including two bills passed by the Knesset in July: the NGO bill, forcing greater transparency around foreign funding for non-governmental organizations; and the expulsion bill, which allows members of the Knesset, through a voting process, to suspend other members over inappropriate behaviour.
These are some of the many stories coming out of Israel. According to Chazan, there are also many sides of them to consider.
“I think in very broad terms there’s a democratic pushback happening everywhere,” says Chazan said. “None of the things I described passed without a great public uproar. Not a minimal public uproar but a serious public uproar.”
The gay pride parade that took place in Jerusalem, meanwhile, saw thousands of people who wouldn’t normally go to Jerusalem visit the city for that event. They went to that holy city to send a message, Chazan said.
“They want to say that: ‘Our Israel is different, our Israel is tolerant, our Israel is open, our Israel is sensitive to the other and we are not going to allow people to think otherwise.’ And therefore here is a living example of a countercurrent, a democratic impulse, which has actually grown [in that week].”
When Ben-Gurion University withdrew its award of the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab understanding to Breaking The Silence – an organization that publishes the field stories of IDF veterans, with details that generally would otherwise be suppressed – that drew a great deal of pushback, Chazan noted.
And that pushback around the university’s about-face was, she said, “stronger both publicly, and by the way financially, than the prize ever was.”
“It’s raised a serious discussion about what is academic freedom and how it could be protected.”
On the attempt to censor a nude painting of the Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked at the Shenkar College, Chazan said “I can’t begin to describe the backlash of an attempt to censor this painting. … Every effort to muzzle open speech, free speech, freedom of expression, is now being scrutinized very clearly.”
In her comments on recent events in Israel, Chazan reflected “in broad strokes” that, for example, “the number of people in Israel who support a two-state solution is larger than the number of people who oppose it.”
“In other words, civil society is very strong. Where’s the problem? The problem is there’s an imbalance or an asymmetry of power relations. And therefore our job, to a large extent, is to strengthen civil society and the values that it stands for, because by doing so one is laying the foundation for transformative change in the other places as well.”
Before the interview finished, Naomi Chazan arrived at these crucial questions: “What is Israeli identity all about? Can it be easily bottled into a narrow, Jewish, ethnocentric bottle, or is being Israeli really more a way of wedding particular traditions within a framework of universal values?”
In signing off from the interview with Chazan, Joan Garson said: “There’s a transcendent vision of how that society should work that underlies what we in the New Israel Fund of Canada are working towards, and you’ve named it.”
“I wrote down four words that you said earlier in our conversation: Our Israel is different. And that gives me a picture of people marching together from all of the Amutot [charities, in Hebrew] we support, saying ‘Our Israel is different.’ How does that partnership work between the people who are doing [the] march and those of us abroad who are trying to support them. What should we be doing?”
“I think keep doing what you’re doing,” Chazan replied.
“What I want to add is, what bothers many of us — and by the way we’re concerned, many of us, about our children and grandchildren — is the next generation’s evinced much less of an interest in Israel. And the fact that the New Israel Fund and its supporters care about what’s happening in Israel, I think it’s the most important element of what we’re talking about, because that gives people like myself the strength to continue and to try to get through what’s going on here, because our obligation is not just personal and not just as citizens of the state of Israel. We have an obligation to you, and by showing that you care about what we’re doing, you give us tremendous strength.”
And they, in turn, give us the strength to continue the work that we do.
The New Israel Fund played a key role in the biggest ever Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance (organized by Jerusalem Open House), which was attended by more than 25,000 people! NIF was one of the funders of the event, and also worked closely with Open House for months on production, marketing, and media. It was also the first time that NIF ‘Livestreamed’ an event on Facebook, with hundreds of thousands of people around the world tuning in for live footage in Hebrew and English. You can see the Livestream footage in English here (and in Hebrew here), and check out pictures from the parade here:
*You can check out even more photos of the parade here »
The record turnout shows that the march has become more than a demonstration of solidarity with the LGBTQ community and is now a demonstration of support for equality, tolerance, and freedom of expression. Another reason for the large numbers of people was that it marked the first anniversary of the death of 16-year-old Shira Banki, who was murdered at last year’s march. One of the most moving parts of this year’s event was her father Uri’s speech: “The lesson we have to learn from Shira’s murder is that moderation is a virtue for all of us, and that radicalization of any kind is a sure fire path to destruction.”
NIF and Shatil have been at the forefront of the LGBTQ struggle in Israel for years and will continue to do all we can to ensure full equality for the LGBTQ community.
The passing of the controversial NGO Law in July drew sharp responses within Israel and from around the world.
Speaking for the United States, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby warned of “the chilling effect that this new law could have on NGO activities.” He added that the “a free and functional civil society is essential, and governments must protect freedoms of expression, including dissent and association, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”
Flagship NIFC-supported organization the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said: “The law is but one of a series of bills and initiatives that oppose legitimate social and political action. Instead of facilitating debate, there are individuals who wish to silence criticism. Activists and people working in organizations are entitled to speak out without being labeled. ACRI hopes that this law deters neither organizations nor their activists from continuing to fight for Israeli democracy, which is so important to us all.”
Breaking the Silence commented: “They want to silence us, so that they can continue building settlements and expanding the occupation, without anyone standing in their way.”
Meanwhile, Peace Now said that the law’s “true intention is to divert the Israeli public discourse away from the occupation and to silence opposition to the government’s policies.” All three organizations are targeted by the new law.
Members of Knesset from the left have also been speaking out.
Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said that the law “symbolizes the budding fascism that is rising and flourishing in Israeli society…an attempt to avoid the real debate over the character of the country and [over the government’s] failures.”
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said: “You chose to persecute two kinds of organizations: those working for equality and those battling against the occupation. With that, you’ve clearly marked your enemies – peace and equality.”
Meanwhile, Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) pointed out the hypocrisy of the legislation: “If you really wanted transparency, you’d have adopted my bill, which requires that everyone, but everyone, report on the sources of their income. This is nothing more than a campaign to divide Israeli society, one that reached its apotheosis already in the last elections.”
In an interview on leading Israeli radio station Reshet Bet, NIF chair Talia Sasson said “Only 27 NGOs are on this list, and they’re all from the left. They found a way to isolate the left. Why is the interference of private individuals allowed but not a foreign country? There’s supposed to be equality… There’s transparency already – this bill hasn’t advanced transparency; it’s just delegitimized those who disagree with the government…everyone who loves Israel needs to struggle against this law.”
Following the vote, some of the targeted organizations published an advertisement in the Israeli press. “Maybe we didn’t succeed in stopping the NGO bill. But the NGO bill won’t succeed in stopping us,” the ad read in Hebrew. [Image above]
Ruti Lavi is a public housing activist who works with families facing eviction from their homes, those who face endless waits for public housing, and people dealing with massive debt.
“I work with them to ensure that the authorities know that there is someone following up, and to make sure they don’t get abused,” she explains. “This can be extremely effective. Sometimes I give them information, help them write letters, or connect them to other people facing similar problems so that they can work together.”
“Even though there are a number of other important struggles, I realized that a roof over one’s head is the most important thing.”
Lavi, who is active with NIF grantee the Forum for Public Housing, describes one public housing struggle that was particularly successful. “The plans for urban renewal were supposed to leave around 3,000 people living in public housing homeless. We made a lot of noise and we managed to stop it.”
Lavi keeps in touch with the families she supports, and some of them have become close friends. “I’ve met women who had the brains to be MKs. When a single mother is forced to survive and find ways to raise her children, it’s much harder than manipulating the country and spending twenty-eight million shekels on a trip to Africa.”
Idit Sargusti, a mental health coordinator for NIF grantee Bizchut – the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities, and Nirit Moskovitz, director of The Social Guard, another organization that promotes civic engagement, are two social change forces to be reckoned with in Israel.
Recently, the two activists came together as part of Shatil’s pilot program the Greenhouse: Developing Transparency Initiatives. The Greenhouse project was inspired by the need to create more democratic infrastructure in Israel.
Through the project, Idit and Nirit, along with a host of representatives from other prominent organizations, learned from each other about issues relating to social change.
As Idit explains: “By learning more about disability issues, the Social Guard can be ‘the eyes of the disabled’ in the Knesset on many different issues.”
“I was surprised to find out that the need to have free access to information is not obvious to everyone,” said Nirit Blair, executive director of the Movement for Freedom of Information. “I was so pleased to be able to educate people about what we do and what is available. I also developed my own knowledge of their organizations.”
As part of the program, participants engaged in an activity called “Challenge the Expert,” which gave NGO professionals an opportunity to present a project and ask for advice from the various experts. Later, the professionals could meet with the expert who seemed to most suit the needs of their projects.
“It was a win-win situation for everyone. The encounter was so natural. The two groups of organizations had so much to learn from each other and were so appreciative of the opportunity to teach about what they do,” said Shatil consultant Milana Yaari. “Shatil has a very expansive view of the arena, the different actors and how to create a platform that makes all the organizations more effective.”
A government committee has called for more Mizrahi Jews in the Council of Higher Education, more research dealing with Mizrahi Jews in higher education, a national day honoring Jews from Muslim countries, school trips to Spain and Morocco, the naming of institutions and street signs after Mizrahi Jews, and the production of a documentary series about the history of Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewry.
The Biton Committee was formed at the start of the year with the aim of increasing content about Mizrachi Jews in the Israeli school curriculum. It is headed by the poet Erez Biton, who is also an Israel Prize laureate. The report has been endorsed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
A number of NIFC-supported organizations have been working for years for greater recognition of the culture, history, and contributions made by Mizrahi Jews to Israeli society. These include Memizrach Shemesh and Achoti as well as Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition and HaOketz. We are proud of their work and will continue to support them in their struggle for a more just and equal society.
In a statement, Biton said: “I’m excited to open for our students a window toward beauty they haven’t yet encountered. The report and recommendations are a statement of legitimacy to a valid Mizrahi identity, without taking anything away from the current Israeli identity. Bennett has given a historic meaning by establishing the committee. This is the first time since the creation of the state that this opportunity has been given – it’s exceptional.”
After heated debate, a law that targets human rights organizations was passed in Israel. Late Monday evening, the Israeli Knesset passed a law requiring Israeli NGOs whose funding comes from international governments to submit to special reporting requirements. Those NGOs are now required to include their sources of funding in all of their official publications. They must disclose this information at the start of every meeting in the Knesset. Organizations will now face significant hurdles raising funds from international sources.
For many, that will mean an uphill battle to raise funds for annual budgets and, likely, pared down services to Israel’s poorest. Because the NGOs targeted are disproportionately human rights organizations, what has been positioned as improving “transparency” has instead been condemned for weakening Israel’s democracy.
Indeed, this law is not about transparency. It’s about intimidation. This bill aims to place the mark of Cain on human rights organizations, characterizing them as enemies of the State who purportedly take direction from foreign governments. Such branding invites potential targeting from critics far and wide.
While organizations like NIFC-funded Sikkuy will bear the brunt of this legislation, funding coming to ultranationalist and settler organizations who receive donations from private individuals rather than foreign governments will not be impacted by this legislation. In fact, the proposal to expand this bill to those who receive private funding was struck as part of a marathon debate in the Knesset.
Sikkuy had this to say about the latest NGO bill: “This attempt to disarm [our] legitimacy will not stop us and will not stop the struggle for human rights and equality between citizens of the Jews and Arabs.”
We stand in support of organizations like Sikkuy to assert their right to fight on behalf of Israel’s Declaration of Independence even despite official attempts to suppress those efforts.
The efforts of democracy-minded Israelis, concerned Jewish Diaspora groups, and some of Israel’s best allies around the world spoke out against this legislation with considerable impact. Thanks to efforts by our partners in Israel, a number of provisions further tightening the reins on human rights organizations were dropped from the original bill.
Supporters of NIFC: those of us committed to a vision of Israel as a democracy that offers complete equality to all of its citizens as envisioned in the Declaration of Independence must redouble our efforts.
With the promise of additional initiatives to stifle human rights NGOs, I appeal to you to support organizations like Sikkuy right now. Not only is freedom of expression on the line, so is Israel’s standing as liberal democracy.
Please give NOW. Click HERE to donate.
Mutasim Ali, a 29-year-old activist from Darfur, has become the first Sudanese asylum seeker to be granted refugee status in Israel.
An excited Mutasim, who is active with a number of NIFC-supported organizations working to support African asylum seekers, said: “I really hope it will be a turning point for African asylum seekers, I really think Israel can turn asylum seekers into a contribution to this country. I am really happy and excited, but my happiness will not be complete until I see everyone in my community getting this status.”
Ali fled to Israel after the Sudanese military regime destroyed his village. Since arriving, he has spent a total of 14 months in the Holot detention facility.
Between 2009 and 2015, Sudanese asylum seekers have submitted 3,165 requests for refugee status. The state has responded to just 45 (1.42%) of these claims, rejecting 40 and giving temporary protection to the remaining 5 people.
Asaf Weitzen, the director of the legal department at Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said: “I really hope it will affect other refugees. It shows that through hard work, someone who is a refugee can receive that status.”
A flurry of activity marked a different kind of Ramadan last week for Arab and Jewish residents in the predominantly Jewish town of Karmiel. After a workshop on using media to promote social change, members of Shatil’s Karmiel Shared Society Project (recipients of the Kahanoff Fund at NIFC), together with Women Wage Peace, handed out flowers in honor of Ramadan at Karmiel’s main intersection.
Karmiel has historically been a Jewish city, but in recent years Arab citizens have moved to the city. Today, the Arab population amounts to 10% of the city’s residents.
“We distributed 250 flowers and greeting cards to passing cars, and said we were from the Shared Society Project. The responses ran from curious to heartwarming, and many Arabs and Jews wished us a happy Ramadan,” says Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija, Shatil’s coordinator for periphery communities.
The group also enjoyed the more traditional celebration of the holiday by sharing festive Iftar (break-fast) meals together with study sessions and lectures. MK Ayman Oudeh, head of the Joint Arab List, attended one such event on education in the Arab sector. Participants discussed the importance of establishing an Arab school in the town and made a plan to present their idea to the Knesset Education Committee together with Shatil, and NIFC partner, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Mosawa.
Shatil and Karmiel residents established the local Shared Society Project to promote more cultural activities, services, and signage reflecting Arab language and culture, and the need for more contact between the two groups.
Dozens of mayors and council heads from Israel’s periphery recently held an ‘Equality March’ demanding radical changes to Israel’s system of budget allocation. A number of NIF grantees have been involved with this issue for many years.
Following the rejection a bill promoting fairer budgeting, the group is calling for increased funding for poorer cities and regions in the country.
MK and NIF Law Fellow alum Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), who proposed the bill, said: “The Israeli Government has the money. And just as it manages to reach the settlements, it should also reach the municipalities and local authorities that fight for proper education and welfare for its residents each and every day.”
The Equality March began in Yeruham (where the municipality has worked closely with the NIF on a number of projects), and then to the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, and Beit Shemesh. The march ended in Jerusalem, where they set up a protest tent.
Yeruham Regional Council Head Michael Biton said: “It’s unacceptable that half of the citizens of Israel are systematically discriminated against. Equal opportunities for education and equal treatment when it comes to welfare aren’t privileges. It’s the government’s job and the job of the government ministers to fulfil their basic obligations.”
Following pressure from NIF partner Zazim, a senior police officer who sexually harassed two subordinates will not be promoted to be the Israel Police Force’s representative in the US. Ilan Mor, a commander of the police’s traffic division, was appointed to the position in May. Zazim mobilized hundreds of Israelis to sign a petition against the promotion.
Mor had reached a plea bargain with a police disciplinary board in 2013, after he had been convicted on two counts of harassment, including one of attempting to kiss a junior officer against her will. He was fined NIS 4,000 ($1,040) and given a warning.
Part of the petition read: “The police is the body which is supposed to deal with cases of sexual harassment or abuse. But what are we supposed to think when the Inspector General chooses to promote a commander who was convicted of harassing two of his subordinates?”
In recent years, around half of the Israel Police’s major generals (the highest rank below that of police commissioner) have been accused of sexual harassment. Many of them have stepped down.
This week, Shatil, alongside partner ADVOT, are celebrating two victories involving Israeli mikvahs (ritual baths).
Following a Shatil/ADVOT campaign, the Histadrut national labor union and the municipal religious councils reached agreement on a 17.5% salary raise for female mikvah attendants. The two groups had urged the union to prioritize the struggle to improve conditions for female mikvah attendants, and to use its clout, network, and professional expertise to create systemic change in their working conditions.
The new collective wage agreement is an important milestone in the ongoing efforts to raise the status of female mikvah attendants, and to provide them with the training necessary to identify domestic violence and women’s health issues.
But the gets better yet: In a historic decision, the High Court of Justice approved the ADVOT’s petition for a woman’s right to dip in the mikvah without the accompaniment of an attendant. Many rabbis within the religious establishment insist that Orthodox religious law requires the supervision of a mikvah attendant. Now, due to the ruling, women have the choice to immerse in private.
In addition to the issue of how the ritual baths are used, who may use them has also been a controversial topic, debated in many a Knesset session: May people converting to Judaism through the Reform and Conservative movements perform their conversion-ritual immersion in state-funded public mikvahs? And will the new law stipulating a woman’s right to private immersion create an opening for all women to use the same mikvahs? ADVOT believes that women should be making these kinds of decisions, which is why its participants are passionate about working to achieve greater representation of women on religious councils. Shatil’s commitment to provide training and support for these women plays an important role in this activism.
Keren Hadad Taub, director of Advot says, “We are thrilled with these path-breaking achievements, but our work is now to make sure the changes in policy are put into practice. Providing training and a sense of belonging for women on the religious councils is crucial to the success of this process. Female representatives will be our emissaries throughout the country, even though It’s not easy to break into the religious councils’ ‘men’s club.’ Shatil has been with us from the beginning and every step of the way, helping us make connections, showing us the ropes of the system, and training us to be activists, and we are going to take this next step together.”
New Israel Fund of Canada works to strengthen Israel’s democracy and to promote freedom, justice and equality for all of its citizens.
To do that, the New Israel Fund of Canada funds initiatives in Israel within four areas of impact. Projects fighting for economic justice, women’s rights, civil and human rights, and religious pluralism are behind the widespread progress we’ve seen over thirty 30+ years working in Israel.
We strive to strengthen an Israeli society consistent with the best Jewish and universal values. We fight inequality because we understand that justice is the precondition for a successful democracy.
The way we go about determining what to fund truly reflects the intimacy we have within Israeli society. Take in a soccer match in Israel and you will see the very best skills on display. Players represent teams across Israel and come from different cultures, representing the type of diversity you can see on the streets of Tel Aviv. As with other countries, Israel takes its soccer very seriously. It is a national export and a point of tremendous pride nationwide.
Amidst players’ feats is a darker side that looms across stadiums in Israel. Hooliganism has filled stands, with racist epithets being broadcast alongside well-deserved celebration in the course of a single game. Players of color are targets of hate speech. Racist chants and jeers can be heard over the din of a roaring crowd.
Families attend these games. Newcomers seek camaraderie as instant fans of local teams. The games are followed from inside living rooms and pubs across the nation and streamed worldwide.
And so, the culture of racism in the stands emits disproportionate influence over perceptions inside Israel and beyond. The flip side is that addressing this dimension of soccer culture can have extraordinary influence well beyond the soccer stadium.
New Israel Fund initiated “Kick Racism Out of Soccer” in an effort to target a vocal pattern of hate speech in Israel’s national sport. The project has been successful in calling out this dimension of soccer to officials and audiences in the stands. It has gone even further and propelled the issue onto the national spotlight, calling out the damage that casual and event-specific racist actions can have on society as a whole.
And it has been offering an alternative building on something else that is prevalent in Israeli society – exceptional capacity for change. The project has extended to fund local youth Jewish and Arab-Israeli teams, intensive day camps, and ground-up initiatives that local neighbourhoods spearhead to address issues of equality through soccer.
This project is emblematic of our approach to change in Israel. Simply put, we need everyone – from rabbis to social workers, from activists to teachers – to work with us. And, because of this, we undertake grassroots efforts within every corner of Israel society.
NIFC is based on a simple idea: individuals like you who care about Israel can work together for an Israel in which everyone is treated with dignity, for an Israel in which a shared society can truly root, for an Israel in which Jewish life is inclusive in every respect.
I want to see an Israel with a secure future, with leadership that reflects the vision and integrity of Israel society. As a New Israel Fund of Canada supporter, I want to see an Israel where democracy is safeguarded, and where social justice can flourish.
These are lofty goals to be sure. But they are also possible through daily work, through grassroots change on the ground, block-by-block. These are goals that can be realized by ordinary people doing extraordinary things and the support you yourselves make.
Women of the Wall Executive Director Leslie Sachs was detained by the police last week for “smuggling” a Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Western Wall prayer plaza. The Torah scroll had been loaned to the group by Sacramento’s Congregation B’nai Israel in order to mark Rosh Hodesh prayers. Sachs took it with her into custody.
In a statement, Women of the Wall said: “Sachs was detained for ‘disturbing the public order despite a relatively quiet and uneventful prayer service with 80 Women of the Wall worshippers. The reason given for the police action was smuggling a Torah scroll into the women’s section. Though we believe that the Torah was handed down to women and men equally at Mt. Sinai, and though women and men both sacrificed their lives and loved ones for the reunification of Jerusalem, in 2016 women still struggle for access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel.”
Torah scrolls are made available to male worshippers at the site by the Orthodox rabbinical authorities.
In recent months, police had largely stopped detaining members of Women of the Wall while they await a High Court ruling on the organization’s petition on the use of Torah scrolls. Proponents of equal prayer are also waiting for a permanent egalitarian prayer plaza to be constructed.
Following the Jerusalem Day Flag Parade, 100 volunteers from NIF grantee Tag Meir handed out 1,000 flowers in Jerusalem’s Old City in a demonstration that many Israelis seek a future of peace alongside their Palestinian neighbors.
The Jerusalem Day Flag Parade has long been a cause of tension. Spitting, shoving, vandalism, and racist chants — including “death to Arabs” and “the mosque will burn” — have characterized the event in the last several years.
The Tag Meir activists went to the Old City after the parade wearing stickers that read “Flowers of Peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The flowers were distributed to Jews, Muslims, and Christians throughout the Old City.
One of the activists, Gil Moshkovits, said: “Rather than be a day of pure joy, Jerusalem Day is used to stick a finger in the eye of anyone who isn’t ‘us.’ Giving out flowers is an act of solidarity with the victims of violence and incitement. It’s an act of showing humanity in a place where humanity is lacking.”
This initiative follows attempts by NIF grantee Ir Amim to prevent the Jerusalem Day Parade from passing through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, as it was due to coincide with the beginning of Ramadan. While the court rejected the petition, it did require the organizers to hold the parade earlier in the day in order to prevent clashes with Ramadan worshipers.
NIFC partner Sikkuy has organized a special series of events to mark the Muslim festival of Ramadan. The Ramadan Nights initiative features dozens of tours in 10 Arab towns and cities, including guided tours in English. Last year, 2,000 tourists participated and record numbers are expected for this year. The project helps boost the local economy while allowing others the chance to explore Muslim tradition, culture, and history. Many of the tours also give participants the opportunity to enjoy Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast.
The initiative is part of Sikkuy‘s Shared Regional Tourist Project, which aims to expand Jewish-Arab tourism.
Randa Haj Yahya and Noam Horowitz, the co-directors of the project, said: “Shared tourism is much more than an opportunity for new experiences or something to do on a weekend. Tourism can also create foundations for a profound social change. These foundations can build better ties between Jewish and Arab citizens and their towns – ties which have proved their durability even during times of fear and mistrust between Jews and Arabs.”
Klil Agassi first became aware of the social distance between Arabs and Jews, while she was working toward her degree in Humanities and Theatre at University of Tel Aviv. “We ate in the same cafeterias, sat in the same classrooms, but there was no contact between us,” she said.
Looking for a way to engage in significant interaction with Arabs, Klil joined, and then interned with, NIF grantee Sadaka Reut Jewish Youth Partnership Group where she started a student group and became a facilitator.
Looking to intensify her involvement with social change work, Klil applied to Shatil’s year-long Everett Fellows for Social Justice program. This month, she is one of 42 students to complete their internships with the program.
Over the past year Klil has interned at flagship NIFC partner the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). There, together with ACRI attorney and NIF Law Fellow alumnus Gil Gan-Mor, she worked to expose the unsavory discriminative practices of sales agents representing new housing projects in the mixed Arab and Jewish cities of Lod and Jaffa.
“Gil Gan-Mor and I built the project from the ground up. We enlisted volunteers and developed a training session for them with a simulation of the investigative work we wanted to them to do: to act as prospective buyers by initiating contact with the housing sales agents and engaging them in their sales pitch. In fact, the sales agents gave distinctly different information on prices and availability of housing units to the Arab and the Jewish volunteers acting as buyers. The agents were smooth, friendly and cordially unwelcoming to prospective Arab buyers.”
“On the one hand,” says Klil, “it’s infuriating and sad to see how rampant this discrimination is. On the other hand, it’s inspiring to see how much power ACRI has in enabling a process that can bring about litigation and policy change, and that one of the agents we exposed has already been fired.”
Klil bubbles with enthusiasm when she recalls her experience as an Everett fellow: “The program was excellent; each of the content meetings was meaningful and changed my awareness in some way. I learned how accessible the Knesset is to an average person and how many civil rights we actually have; and it was extremely important to sit face-to-face with our host from Umm Al Hiran, and hear first-hand about the challenges of living in an unrecognized Bedouin village.”
As an outgrowth of this experience, Klil is currently studying towards a graduate degree in Mediation and Conflict Resolution at University of Tel Aviv. The Everett program has taken her one more step along the path of creating social change for a better Israel.
The Everett Program for Social Justice has provided internships, experiential programming to deepen participants’ understanding of issues critical to Israeli society, and tools to create social change for 14 years — thanks to the generosity of its founders Edith and the late Henry Everett.
On this Yom Haatzmaut, we seek inspiration from those individuals whose actions strengthen the foundations of Israeli society, of a Jewish and democratic nation. I am fortunate in my job to come across bravery, courage, and perseverance in the face of sometimes overwhelming challenges. I want to tell you about one activist whose actions inspire me in my own work here in Canada.
Rabbi Ron Aigen led Congregation Dorshei Emet in Montreal for nearly 40 years. He passed away earlier this week at the age of 68. Rabbi Aigen integrated social justice in his spirituality and in his approach to community building. His values aligned closely with New Israel Fund of Canada.
Rabbi Aigen was a beacon of religious pluralism, among the many values he shared with NIFC. He sustained Canada’s first Reconstructionist synagogue. Under his leadership, Dorshei Emet commissioned Jennifer Taylor Friedman to transcribe a new Torah through a feminist lens.
When New Israel Fund of Canada hosted the victims of a Tel Aviv gay centre bombing, Rabbi Aigen mobilized the community to bear witness to their story.
Owing in part to the strong ties he had with Israel – through his wife, Carmela, and his yearly stays in Israel, as well as his love for Israeli culture and music – Rabbi Aigen interwove sensitivity for issues facing Israeli society within the fabric of his congregation. Even as polarization on Israel threatens the very existence of congregational life, Rabbi Ron’s progressive Zionism was deeply considered. And, not because Dorshei Emet lacked diversity in its views about Israel.
“It wasn’t about agreeing with him on Israel,” said Rabbi Julia Appel, former Assistant Rabbi of Dorshei Emet. “Rabbi Ron would rather a congregant take a principled stance that he disagreed with than not take one at all.”
New Israel Fund of Canada strives for a society that grows stronger from diversity of opinions, from the priority placed in considered disagreement over indifference or forced consensus. Indeed, this mission applies to our work not only in Israel but here in Canada as well.
After four decades of leadership from the pulpit, Rabbi Aigen cultivated an environment of “thoughtfulness”, in Rabbi Appel’s words. “Even those who passionately disagreed with Rabbi Ron’s views on Israel felt belonging at Dorshei Emet. He created a congregation that embraced intellectual curiosity and pluralism in Jewish and Zionist expression.”
What would have turned them away?
A discussion devoid of any nuance about Israel, according to Rabbi Appel.
As we consider our own contribution to the strength of Israel, let us walk in Rabbi Aigen’s footsteps and strive for social justice with equal courage and conviction. In Rabbi Aigen’s own words, “[Jews] don’t play the victim, we seek to prevent others from suffering the same fate; we seek to eradicate evil.”
NIF organizations have protested vehemently against the Kfar Saba Municipality, which recently ordered the dismantlement of a billboard urging the local hospital director to “stop the segregation of babies in maternity wards.”
The Kfar Saba Municipality’s ad company told the NIF partners that bought the ad, Zazim – Community Action and Physicians for Human Rights, that the billboard “offended public sensitivities.” Media reports later indicated that it was the hospital director who set in motion the municipality’s decision.
Zazim executive director Raluca Ganea said, “Our billboard was fully paid for by citizens who wanted their voices clearly heard on the issue of segregation. The municipality’s response not only violates the freedom of expression of these citizens but lends support for racial segregation in hospitals.”
Physicians for Human Rights added, “Racism exists in Israel’s health system and staying silent about it won’t make it go away but rather will strengthen it. Medical ethics requires equal treatment.”
Following last month’s inflammatory comments by MK Bezalel Smotrich of the right wing Jewish Home party, in which he called for segregation in maternity wards, these grantees raised funds from ordinary Israelis for this billboard campaign. Zazim and Physicians for Human Rights were instrumental in calling for an end to this widespread practice of separating Jews and Arabs in hospitals across the country.
The removal of the billboard has provoked major protests from the public in the media and from progressive Knesset members. Despite the setback, NIF and our grantees are unfazed and are continuing the struggle against segregation and racism in Israel.
One of the formative experiences in the life of NIF Board member Yossi Sucary was attending elementary school in Tel Aviv. “I was a Mizrahi kid attending a [predominantly Ashkenazi] North Tel Aviv school,” he recalls, ‘and I’ll never forget the day we discussed the Holocaust. I told the teacher that my grandmother, who came from Libya, was a Holocaust survivor and that many Libyan Jews were sent by the Germans to the concentration camps and exterminated.”
“The teacher immediately said that this was not correct and that I was lying, and subsequently. The school principal told me the same thing. Because both of them were authority figures, I assumed that my parents and grandfather were lying to me. It was only when I was older that I understood that my family was telling the truth and that the teachers didn’t know what they were talking about and that the school was deceiving me. There was no way back from this realization, the sad insight that has made me a skeptic in all areas of my life, and because of this, among other things, I later went to study philosophy.”
In 2013, Sucary recounted this episode when he wrote Benghazi – Bergen Belsen the first historical novel of its kind in Hebrew (published by Am Oved). The book discusses Libyan Jews who were taken to European concentration camps, where many of them were murdered. Jews from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia were also taken to Europe and murdered by the Nazis, though in smaller numbers than Libyan Jewry.
The novel focuses on the terrifying experiences of one Libyan Jewish family from the German occupation of Libya in 1941 through the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in 1945. In the book, the Hajajis were one of the most respected Jewish families in Benghazi before they were uprooted from their home and deported to Europe, where they perished. Sucary’s groundbreaking novel has already won the Brenner prize, the Israel Institute Prize in Washington, and the Prime Minister’s prize in 2015.
Sucary said, “I had various motives in writing the book. The first motive was literary, and above and beyond that, of course, was historical. In the previous book that I wrote called Emilia, I mentioned my grandmother who survived [the Holocaust] and readers were astonished – including people at the forefront of Israel’s intelligentsia. I understood that there is huge ignorance on the subject of the Holocaust of Libya’s Jews and North Africa’s Jews generally.”
Was the omission of Libya’s Jews from the memory of the Holocaust deliberate?
“Walter Benjamin said that history is written by the victors and the history of Israel and Zionism was written by Ashkenazim when the State was established.”
Photo Credit: Shlomit Carmeli
While some hospitals segregate Jewish and Arab mothers in maternity wards (see story above) NIFC- funded Shatil’s Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee does just the opposite: it brings Jewish and Arab Israelis together to improve the dismal state of health services in northern Israel.
Last week’s second annual Galilee Conference on Health Equality, a major event sponsored by the Shatil Citizens’ Forum, brought excellent news: Dr. Adi Sasson, head of rehabilitation for the Ministry of Health, announced government plans to open an inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation department at the Galilee’s Poriya hospital. This a significant victory for health services in northern Israel, as there is currently only one inpatient rehabilitation facility in the area, with just 39 beds at the Nahariya Hospital, for a region of 1.3 million people.
The conference was hosted by the Shfar’am Municipality – a major breakthrough in of itself, as events of this size and scope are rarely held in Arab towns.
“We fought for this [rehabilitation center],” said Shatil’s Forum coordinator, Lev Aran. “There is no outpatient rehabilitation facility in the entire Galilee and no children’s or neurological rehabilitation services, so residents have to travel – sometimes for hours — to the Haifa area for rehabilitation. As a result, many simply give up on getting the rehabilitation they need, which directly and adversely affects their health – sometimes leading to lifelong disability.”
The bleak state of rehabilitation services in the Galilee — home to a majority of Israel’s Arabs – is just one example of the many health gaps in the region.
The conference drew nearly 200 people, including senior Ministry of Health officials, area mayors, and hospital directors who are pressing the government to address the disparities in public health between northern Israel and the rest of the country. These gaps translate to a shorter life expectancy, greater infant mortality, fewer doctors, and higher rates of illness. On every measure of public health, Galilee residents fare worse than Israelis living in Israel’s center.
Professor Itamar Grotto, head of public health for the Ministry of Health and chair of the Grotto Committee for the Examination of the Expansion of health Services in the North, praised Shatil’s Forum, “The Forum is very important. We believe in public participation in policy planning and the Forum brings the public’s voice.”
The plan for the new rehabilitation center is an important step in the right direction. Despite conference attendees’ broad agreement that the Galilee lags far behind central Israel on public health measures, government officials did not offer any policy changes that would address this disparity on the systemic level. Shatil is committed to building upon this victory and finding those long-term solutions that will fundamentally change the way healthcare is delivered in Israel’s North.
What does an Israeli public housing resident look like? New Shatil staffer Cary Jacoby thought she knew until her stereotypes were shattered when she drove three activists to her first Shatil-led public housing conference last month.
One of her riders, Beth Herzog, was an American immigrant and according to Cary, “had my look.”
Beth is used to confronting stereotypes about public housing in Israel. “When I try to petition for public housing, they hear my American accent and tell me, ‘Go back to America,’” she explained. They don’t realize that I don’t have any family here or there. I am partially disabled, can barely make my rent in my low-income neighborhood. To be eligible for public housing, you have to be either fully disabled or have more than three children. I have one daughter, and one of these days I am going to be out on the street.”
Despite reading reams of background material on the 30,000 people waiting for public housing, widespread corruption, neglect of building maintenance, and narrow eligibility criteria, Cary realized just how much more she had to learn. Her ride to the conference was an incredibly eye-opening experience in of itself. “I realized that my real education into the quagmire of public housing had just begun.”
Another rider, Revital Aish, told her fellow passengers that she and her five children live in one-and-a-half rooms in an absorption center-turned-public housing building. Throughout the winter, she uses buckets to catch the water streaming in through the leaky roof. And to make matters worse, the housing company has informed the residents that they are planning renovations over the next few years, so residents will need to pay for elevators, higher property taxes, and building maintenance.
And then there was Rachel, who had followed her dream of living in Jerusalem and moved there some years ago. Since then, financial and health-related misfortunes have left her paying 70% of her income to rent, leading her to join the struggle for public housing.
These three women joined 60 activists from Beit Shean to Dimona — most of them public housing residents — brought together by Shatil to keep the momentum going after the recent passage of a law requiring greater transparency in public housing. Representatives from a wide variety of organizations, such as Immigrants for a Successful Absorption and the Dimona Residents Fighting for Public Housing, convened to build community, share information, and brainstorm strategies. Despite the diversity of specific group agendas, the sense of community was palpable. When Beth Herzog said, “I feel invisible when they tell me that my partial disability and my low earning capacity are not sufficient criteria for being a public housing candidate,” several participants shouted, “You’re not invisible, I see you!”
Together, participants worked on expanding the criteria for public housing eligibility, the plight of immigrants and senior citizens, and confronting housing companies on negligence. “We can’t afford to be apathetic,” said Revital Aish, summing up the day. “We can’t let other people decide how we’re going to live.”
Channeling our Inner Simple Son (or Daughter)
At times it can be confusing, other times disheartening, and almost always, it is overwhelming.
As we seek to continuously engage with ourselves, our community here in Canada, and our friends and families in Israel, over how we can recommit ourselves to building a better Israel, the path is not always as clear as we’d like it to be. Complexities arise. Current events derail the best laid plans. Critical thought distorts a path that once seemed so clear. And so in the end, some of us find ourselves exhausted. Others, throwing up their hands, disengage completely.
Passover offers us a time of reflection. It affords us an opportunity to think about freedom, about justice, and about new beginnings. It also provides us an important guide for doing so.
Our Passover Haggadah speaks of four sons – one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not even know how to ask a question. I want to suggest, perhaps surprisingly, that as we gather around our Seder tables, we look to the simple son for guidance.
The Haggadah tells us that when the simple son asks “What is this?” we are to answer him, “With a strong hand Hashem took me out of Egypt.” This simple answer to the son’s inquiry of why he is sitting around a Seder table, which captures only the bare essence of the Passover story is enough to satisfy the simple son. The intricacies that may befuddle even the wise son are skipped over, leaving the simple son able to feel energized and presumably connected to the Seder, the Passover holiday, and the Jewish people.
With news coming out of Israel and Diaspora communities fast enough and in so many directions to leave even the wise son shaking his head, the way of the simple son, of distilling complexity down to its essence, similarly offers us a chance to reconnect to our commitment to building a better Israel. Notwithstanding a headline that exacerbates us, or the healthy skepticism that prompted us to question something we might not have questioned before, when we ask ourselves “what is this?”, meaning why am I here, or why have I committed myself to supporting the New Israel Fund of Canada, we can clearly proclaim, “Because there is a dream that is Israel.”
When you support New Israel Fund of Canada, you’re supporting grassroots Israeli organizations. Giving to the projects we support in Israel is a true testament of values and a belief that change does happen on a human scale. And, that’s perhaps more true of New Israel Fund of Canada than any other organization in this realm. As supporters, you and I belong to a community of Canadians who are taking a stand when their love for Israel is expressed in a hope for equality and for civil rights – in other words, when those two sentiments are not contradictory but, rather, absolutely consistent.
We can and should be wise, but we can be wise tomorrow. There are probably also moments in the coming year for the suspicion and doubt of the wicked son. And there will certainly be times when we all feel like we don’t even know which question we should be asking. But in order to meet those futures, let us use this Passover holiday to remind ourselves of the essence of why we are here – of that dream and what it means to us, and what each of us is going to do to help realize it.
Josh Scheinert is a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in international investment and human rights law. He joined NIFC board of directors in 2013.
A new study by NIFC partner Sikkuy and Seventh Eye (and the Berl Katznelson Foundation) has found that Arabs represent only 2 percent of the interviewees in Hebrew-language broadcast media. The data found that in January and February 2016, just 2.8 percent of the interviewees on Channel 2 were Arab (128 out of 5,528), along with only 2.1 percent on Channel 10 (135 out of 6,517). This follows an earlier study which found that coverage of the 2015 Paris terror attacks on Israeli television did not feature a single Arab expert despite the fact that Israeli-Arabs make up around one-fifth of Israel’s population.
Seventh Eye, a journalistic watchdog organization, will now publish a series of reports on the under-representation of Arabs in Israeli media. Edan Ring, Director of Public Affairs and Head of the Equal Media Project at Sikkuy, said: “The Hebrew media influences public opinion and the way Arabs are viewed by the Jewish public. What about having Arab doctors and experts on various subjects also being on TV and radio? The situation could be handled by means of government regulation … But the media outlets should begin already now to handle the situation on their own and to set rules for themselves that would be in line with their place and their influence on Israeli society.”
This Passover, Women of the Wall plans to hold a historic prayer service featuring the first ever priestly blessing performed by women at the Western Wall. This follows the recent government decision to open a new egalitarian plaza at the Western Wall, and the Supreme Court’s ruling that Israeli mikvahs should be open to people undergoing Reform and Conservative conversions.
Over the last few weeks, efforts like these to expand religious freedom have had to face new hurdles. Following pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties regarding the Western Wall compromise, Prime Minister Netanyahu said “some difficulties have arisen” and that new recommendations will be presented within 60 days. Executive Director of NIF grantee the Masorti Movement, Yizhar Hess, said in response: “Not one of us would think that the Israeli government will back down from an historic compromise plan, that the sides reached after a long and intensive negotiation, and to which the prime minister committed himself at innumerable forums and gatherings.”
Meanwhile, following the Supreme Court ruling, a new bill that would reinstate the ban on Conservative and Reform Jews from using publicly funded ritual baths has passed its first Knesset reading. MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) said, “You introduced a law in order to circumvent the Supreme Court, you don’t care about mikvahs, what interests you is gaining a foothold. You’re waging a thug-like, extortionate fight against ‘those people’, who have a name – Reform and Conservative. Who gave you the right to monopolize Judaism?”
These developments make Women of the Wall’s historic prayer service even more important, in order to demonstrate the strength of those who support religious freedom in Israel. The event will be held on Sunday April 24 at 8:45 in the Kotel’s women’s section. If you’re in Jerusalem for Passover, don’t miss out!
In a precedent-setting decision, the Israel Land Authority has fined the construction company Be’Emunah 323,000 shekels for broadcasting a racist commercial. This follows a petition from NIFC partner Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) after Be’Emunah, while promoting a housing development for national-religious Ashkenazi Jews, mocked Mizrachi Jews with distasteful stereotypes. The ad depicts an Ashkenazi family trying to light Hannukah candles in peace before noisy and disrespectful Mizrachi neighbors intrude, prompting a voiceover to ask, “do you want neighbors who are just like you?”
Here is the ad:
Thanks to a decision ACRI was also involved in from 2010, the discriminatory marketing of residential units is prohibited, but this is the first time that a construction company has been penalized for it. Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, Director of ACRI’s Social and Economic Rights Unit, said: “The advertisement shocked the country and we are pleased that it was quickly removed from the Internet, but many Israelis of Mizrachi origin were deeply offended by the ad. The tender committee’s decision sends a clear message: Discriminatory advertisements are forbidden, even if no discrimination takes place in practice.”
The Attorney General’s Office is now investigating whether marketing apartments solely to the national-religious public constitutes unlawful discrimination. Whatever its decision, Gan-Mor said, “The Association for Civil Rights in Israel will continue to combat unlawful discrimination and discriminatory marketing of homes, and will fight for the right of all Israelis – Jews or Arabs, secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox – to freely choose their place of residence.”
Just one week after International Women’s Day, a group of women and men gathered outside the Prime Minister’s office to protest against proposed legislation that would severely restrict access to mivkahs (ritual baths). This new “mivkah bill” would override a February Supreme Court decision that allowed Reform and Conservative converts to use state-funded mikvahs. The bill, sponsored by ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset, has wider implications for all women who use mikvahs regularly: it requires mikvah attendants to be present during the entire immersion process, effectively placing ritual baths, under the direct control of the Rabbinate. This would render a Reform or Conservative conversion, or even Orthodox women observing this ritual according to their personal customs, an illegal act.
“The bill violates the rights of the individual as well as freedom of worship, which is a basic right,” said Keren Hadad Taub, coordinator of Advot and a former ritual bath attendant. Advot is a Shatil-guided group that works to improve the experience of women at ritual baths and advocates for the fair employment of ritual bath attendants. “This bill tells a woman how she has to immerse herself ritually, and this was never the case. The Shulchan Aruch (the Jewish ‘rulebook’) has rules but it also states that ritual immersion is the sole responsibility of the woman. Until today, the rabbinate’s responsibility was solely for the physical structure, the building. This law would change that.”
Many religious leaders have voiced their opposition to the proposed law. Aaron Leibowitz, an Orthodox rabbi present at the demonstration, told those assembled that Jewish law can be responsive to the needs of women and allow for greater freedom for women to use the mivkah according to their needs.
“This bill would give a small group of Orthodox male rabbis complete control over women’s ritual immersion in a way that violates the rights of women who want to immerse alone or to do so according to non-Orthodox practices,” said Ronny Shapira Chisdai, the new Shatil religious women’s project coordinator.
Chisdai speaks for many when she describes her personal mikvah experience: “Like everyone who uses the mikvah, I have to stand each month naked in front of a woman I don’t know. Before my wedding, when I was as stressed as could be, the attendant stood opposite me, examined by body, told me I had to shower again, clean my nails again…I came to fulfill a commandment; it was unpleasant and humiliating to be looked at and examined in that way.
“We came here today to say that this mitzvah (commandment) is our responsibility. That we should be able to immerse in our own way. That the attendants need to trust us and let us have this responsibility. Especially for women who have been sexually abused or have had a mastectomy, the way it’s done now can be a nightmare.”
Advot, which grew out of a Shatil-led mikvah initiative several years ago, is one of several groups working for change within the religiously-observant community that partners with Shatil as part of its effort to strengthen moderate voices within Orthodoxy in Israel.
A recent survey of over 5600 Israelis describes a spectrum of religious views within Israel at once complex and directed. In its first study in Israel, the Washington-based Pew Research Center focused on a number of issues germane to Israeli life. Among them, Jewish-Israeli perceptions of religious pluralism revealed distinctions more refined than tolerance v intolerance, pro- or anti-Jewish sovereignty. Here are some highlights:
- * The vast majority (91%) of Jewish respondents said that Israel is vital to the long-term survival of the Jewish people while close to that majority (79%) believe that Israel should “favour” Jews
- * Over 60% of Jewish respondents would place democratic values over halakha, with a similar majority opposing making halakha the law of the state. Broken down across observance, almost 90% of secular Jews favour democracy over halakha. Taking the opposite position is 90% of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
- * Jewish respondents were roughly divided in their support for women to pray at the Kotel and permitting Conservative and Reform rabbis to perform weddings.
- * The majority of Jewish respondents favour bus transportation on Shabbat as well as mandatory conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army.
(For more, check out the survey in its entirety at: http://www.pewforum.org/2016/03/08/israels-religiously-divided-society/)
Not only are there distinct subcultures inside of Israel’s Jews, but the country’s Jewish population is distinct from the Diaspora. Studying the survey further reveals significant differences among Jews in Israel and in the United States, with Jewish-Israelis generally more practicing of Jewish traditions.
New Israel Fund of Canada has worked in the realm of religious pluralism in Israel for over thirty years. We have partnered to fund religious immersion of Ethiopian and Russian newcomers into a Jewish society and, even more broadly, into their own Jewish heritage. We have been invited to work within ultra-Orthodox communities to expand halakhic principles towards a more gender-inclusive society. We have supported efforts to pluralize publicly held beliefs about Jewish burials, weddings, and laws of kashruth.
The way towards impact in Israel? It’s written in the pages of the Pew Study: partnerships inside of subcultures within Israeli societies, projects sensitive to the particular complexities of Israeli life, and funding leadership that originates with Israeli activists who understand first-hand the nuances of daily life.
This year as in previous years, our funding reflects this sensitivity and commitment to partnership with Israelis. Some highlights of NIFC’s 2016 projects:
- * Memizrach Shemesh that presents a Mizrachi-Jewish perspective on Jewish and Israeli heritage espousing values of tolerance, solidarity, religious moderation, mutual understanding, and democracy
- * Mavoi Satum that promotes bettering the status of women denied a divorce through individual support to women in their dealings with professional agencies, subsidizing legal expenses for women of meager means, and outreach to rabbis highlighting the problems these women face
- * Design for Feminist Impact Laboratory that bring together more than 30 representatives of organizations and independent community organizers from across Israel to explore issues such as economic justice, employment, reproductive health and rights, gender equality, religion and state
The Pew Study reflects what NIFC and so many of our supporters have known all too well. The challenges in Israel are many and the methods for addressing them are equally complex. Funding, a mission towards equality for all Israelis, and the ways in which NIFC approaches its work – these are the components for long-term impact on behalf of a strong and inclusive Israel. Thank you to our supporters across Canada for helping to fund these and other projects in 2016!
Following intensive work by NIF grantees Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, the National Planning and Building Council is expected to increase construction in Israeli-Arab towns in northern Israel, including Sakhnin, Majdal Krum, Shfaram, Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm, Ara, Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Tira, and Kalansua. These changes, which are part of a national master development plan that will dramatically expand housing opportunities for Israel’s Arab minority, were approved by a subcommittee and now await approval from the full council.
Development plans for most Israeli-Arab areas tend to be outdated or non-existent, and as a result, legal avenues for Arab citizens to build new homes are rare. Thus, most new Arab housing is technically illegal and vulnerable to demolition at government whim. But thanks to the advocacy of NIF grantees, these proposed policy changes are expected to pass, allowing for new construction in growing urban areas that desperately need it.
Crucially, the recommendation was also backed by influential environmental organizations, which generally oppose such expansion. But in this case, they supported the changes because of the urgent need to increase housing and employment opportunities in Arab communities.
In a statement, Bimkom said, “We are proud to have played a role in this important step, and hope that the final approval will be given for increased building in Arab areas – an increase that will be appropriate for the demographic and cultural needs of the residents.”
Following intense public pressure including a campaign by NIF grantee Zazim – Community Action, the Ministry of Education has announced a number of changes to a controversial proposed civics textbook. The campaign protested the fact that the textbook, Being Citizens in Israel, presented Israel as primarily a Jewish society, downplayed its character as a liberal democracy, and marginalized Arab citizens. Other groups protesting the book include the Civics Teachers Council, the Academic Forum for Civics Instruction, the Israel Political Science Association, and Israeli-Arab heads of education departments.
Changes will reportedly include an extra section on minority rights and edits to the section on judicial review. There will also be an increase in the number of minorities represented in the book. In a statement, Zazim said: “The struggle over the book is far from over, but in the meantime. we should be proud of this achievement – more than 1,600 people supported the students’ letter to the Minister Bennett, took part in a protest outside the Education Ministry…and helped spread the word…[We are] proud to have had a part in this success.”
Zazim is a campaigning community for social and political change, which runs online and offline campaigns on key issues related to human rights, social justice, combating racism and the occupation, environmental protection, government transparency and independent media. It was incubated as a New Israel Fund project under the New Initiatives For Democracy (NIFD) program in 2014, and started operations this year. The campaign against the new civics textbook was its first online organizing effort, and set the stage for more impactful use of online organizing for progressive causes.
Hagit Sigawi, 35, was born in a public housing apartment in Be’er Sheva. Today, after living on the streets and in a protest tent, she resides with her husband and five children in a public housing apartment in the Negev development town of Ofakim. Hagit is one of the founders and leaders of a group of Be’er Sheva women fighting for public housing and a member of the Shatil-led Public Housing Forum. Her story is an inspiring account of the triumphs and challenges in the struggle for public housing in Israel.
Born to parents who divorced shortly after her birth, Hagit spent the first two years of her life in a Jerusalem orphanage. Although two of her natural siblings were put up for adoption, Hagit was less lucky, since as a baby she was paralyzed from the shoulders down. At five, she says, she stood up, began walking, and slowly improved. With the courts as her guardian, Hagit moved in with her grandmother — where she said she was regularly abused, beaten, and cursed — and attended a boarding school from ages 7 to 17.
Today, she is strong and healthy, proudly stating that she graduated high school with a full matriculation certificate and completed her army service.
“I am a kind of Cinderella,” she says.
After a long road full of obstacles, Hagit finally received the keys to a public housing apartment this past January. While her personal housing problem was solved, she continues to work for the housing rights of others, partnering with Shatil and the Public Housing Forum, advocating for reforms such as easing criteria for eligibility for public housing in the Negev.
Hagit’s Be’er Sheva group receives guidance from Shatil, including an eight-session course developed in collaboration with the group, in which they learned about housing rights, lobbying, media relations, and strategies and best practices for public campaigns. “We have a very good relationship with Shatil. They really upgraded our group and our capabilities,” says Hagit.
Hagit’s success is part of a larger struggle whose successes include major progress on one of the Public Housing Forum’s main goals: restoring public housing units to the public that were illegally transferred to NGOs, synagogues, and hospitals. Following a significant amount of work by the Forum, the Housing Ministry recently announced that within a month, it would develop a program for this exact purpose.
Last week, Shatil advocacy expert Danny Gigi appeared on Channel One News to talk about a police investigation into bribes taken by public housing officials. To combat this kind of corruption, the Public Housing Forum is pushing a law promoting transparency in public housing, which is now heading for a second and third vote in the Knesset.
“In the 1970’s, 23% of all housing in Israel was public housing,” says Gigi. “Today it’s 3%. The OECD average is 16%. In Israel, thousands of people are on the waiting list. Our struggle is to ensure that no one in this country goes without a roof over their head.”
“People like Hagit bring that day one step closer.”
‘Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies’
As a progressive Zionist and someone who believes ardently in the power of words, I was disheartened (to say the least) when I read in Haaretz that Borderlife, a novel by acclaimed Persian Jewish Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, had been banned from the high school curricula in Israel by the Ministry of Education in late December 2015.
Even worse was the rationale behind this decision: the novel features a love story between Hilmi, a Palestinian painter, and Liat, an Israeli translator, who meet in New York. In it, a meaningful kiss is exchanged. Naftali Bennett, head of the Ministry of Education and one of Netanyahu’s hard-right allies, has deemed the story inappropriate on the grounds that it could promote Israeli-Palestinian interchange and threaten “the identity and the heritage of students in every sector”.
Yet amidst the darkness of this censorship there soon emerged a light. As often happens in Israel when I feel close to giving up, the progressive left quickly fought back with a response that was at once creative, poignant, and effective. The publication TimeOut Tel Aviv put together a touching video in early January 2016 that brought together six Jewish/Arab couples – male and female, gay and straight (some of whom had never met before) – and asked them to kiss on camera.
The video quickly went viral, amassing more than 100,000 views in the first few days after being released online. In the video, when asked how it felt to kiss a stranger from a different background than their own, one participant answers “less strange than the [Arab-Jewish] conflict.”
The video ends with the message “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”, written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
So why do I bring this anecdote up?
For the past two years I have been the youngest board member of the New Israel Fund of Canada. Having grown up in the socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair in Toronto, and having lived in Israel (on a kibbutz and in Jerusalem) for several years, I view the NIFC as a natural progression of my belief that we can make a difference in promoting a more tolerant, democratic and equitable Israel, for today and for tomorrow.
In my time on the board, I have been constantly impressed at the high calibre of the speaking events (getting to hear from people as diverse as Aluf Benn, Editor-In-Chief of Haaretz, Israeli-Arab author Sayed Kashua, and Hannah Kehat, founder of Israel’s first Orthodox Feminist organization Kolech). I have also been extremely inspired by the amazing work that is being done on the ground in Israel today by the different activist groups funded by NIFC, even as Israeli/Palestinian violence show little sign of abatement.
The TimeOut campaign connects to the work of NIFC in three distinct ways. First of all, the protest highlights the importance of youth. This campaign was created and backed by mostly young Israelis who are clearly frustrated and angered by the political standstill that is actively being promoted by both Arab and Jewish politicians. Second of all, this video highlights the increasing polarization we see in Israel today, between left and right, Jewish and Arab, young and old. It underscores the importance of supporting and promoting the many small agencies and activists who are working to improve intercultural understanding in Israel and who fight against intolerance in big and small ways. And finally, third of all, this protest reminds me, yet again, of the important work that NIFC supports. For example, we currently fund anti-racism curricula in Israeli schools through ACRI – the Association for Civil Right in Israel. As an independent and non-partisan organization, ACRI has been at the forefront in Israel promoting human rights education (in both Hebrew and Arabic) for all young people regardless of race, religion, political orientation, gender or sexuality.
And so, on those days when you too may feel utterly despondent about the future in Israel – as we all do when we read about events such as the banning of Borderline – I encourage you to read up on NIFC’s important work and also to donate generously. I am so pleased to play a role in this very important organization.
Naomi Lightman is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She is the chair of NIFC’s New Generations Committee.
An important conference earlier this month on the struggle for the recognition of Bedouin villages brought together Israelis leaders from politics, media, and the NGO sector.
For the residents and leaders of Wadi el Na’am, one of the largest unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev region, this was the perfect opportunity to announce some exciting news: after two decades of struggle, the National Planning Council has formally recommended that the government recognize this village of 4,000 residents.
This victory is an important step towards providing vital services for Israel’s Bedouin citizens. Southern Israel is home to about 45 unrecognized Bedouin villages which are not connected to vital infrastructure such as electricity, water, plumbing, and garbage collection. Schools and roads are substandard in these villages and home demolitions occur regularly, since it is nearly impossible for residents to receive building permits.
Knesset Members Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Ayman Odeh (Joint List) took part in the conference, lending their vocal support to the struggle for equality in the Negev. Former MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash), chair of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, stressed that shelter, basic services, and infrastructure are basic rights and that the challenges faced by the Bedouin community are a concern for all of Israel’s Arab citizens.
Conference participants also noted that for Bedouin villages, recognition does not guarantee equality. For example, although the village of Um Batin received official recognition 10 years ago, the village still does not have proper roads or electricity, and sewage from nearby settlements in the Hebron hills flows through a stream that cuts through the middle of the village.
With respect to the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran, residents spoke about the government’s threats to forcibly move them out of their homes to make room for a new Jewish town, to be called Hiran. Despite the hostility, Umm el-Hiran residents expressed their openness to alternative solutions and their desire to be integrated into the new community.
Ben Gurion University political geography professor Oren Yiftachel presented an alternative plan for recognition and emphasized the importance of a positive — rather than just an oppositional — stance and urban planner Nili Baruch of Bimkom presented the current official planning status of the greater Be’er Sheva area, noting that the government is planning to build three new Bedouin communities as well as 24 new Jewish settlements, some of them on the lands of the unrecognized Bedouin villages.
The conference was convened by Shatil and the Council for Unrecognized Villages and was held in collaboration with NIF grantees, the Al-Huquq Center for Human Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI,) Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and the heads of local committees.
Following pressure from NIFC grantee partner Hiddush and the Movement for Freedom of Information, the Finance Ministry has revealed that the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut (Jewish dietary law) certification costs the Israeli economy about $770 million per year, adding about five percent annually to the cost of food production.
Kashrut supervision touches every area of the Israeli food industry, from farmers and manufacturers to supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels. Recently, private kashrut supervision organizations have emerged to open up the market to competition, though the Chief Rabbinate still retains a near-monopoly in the field. This report shows that breaking this monopoly would be a victory not only for religious freedom, but for the Israeli economy as well.
According to the report: “This monopoly requires thousands of jobs and its practices raise the cost of living in Israel as any exclusive provider in the production process would. Situations arise where more restrictive practices are enforced in some places and not others, transparency is lacking, certain suppliers are given preference over others, barriers to entry are erected to products and smaller manufacturers.”
The costs for supervising kosher meat are the greatest, at around NIS 2.06 billion per year, while the costs of supervising supermarkets and hotels amount to nearly NIS 390 million. In addition, kashrut requirements restrict imports (including goods such as cheese), resulting in higher prices from the lack of competition.
The Jerusalem deputy general inspector is bringing together Arab cab drivers and municipal parking inspectors to find ways to reduce ongoing tensions between them. The director of a museum in the city decided to focus an exhibit on the responsibility of the individual in society. The human resources department of the Jerusalem municipality is beginning to train its managers in the best ways to approach and integrate Ethiopian-Israelis into the municipal work force.
These are just three of the concrete initiatives that emerged from Lowering the Walls: Leaders Combating Racism in Jerusalem, an NIFC-funded Shatil-IDC Herzliya training for 16 select leaders working in varied sectors in the city. The organizers chose people with authority and influence who are in positions to introduce and oversee new initiatives that can change people’s attitudes, actions and work in a multicultural city that is often a focal point for tension and racism.
One of the main insights learned became a focus of the course: Passive bystanders play a critical role in enabling racism. How can we help them become active? The insight had an immediate effect on the participants themselves. An example: Michal Greenwald, who works with the Jerusalem Municipality, is not responsible for helping the municipality with its goal of hiring more Ethiopian-Israelis. But because of her participation in the training, she decided to add this to her work plan.
Religious and secular participants, from varied Jewish ethnic groups representing the public, private and nonprofit sectors, were unanimously enthusiastic about the tools and knowledge they gained and about fruitful connections made within the group.
“I didn’t expect to, but I came away with many new insights from the course,” said Assaf Carmon, deputy general inspector of the Jerusalem municipality. “It was very enlightening….And the skilled, sensitive staff, with its endless devotion, was wonderful, as was the group and the network created. I hope to participate in more Shatil training sessions. Wherever you need me, I’m your soldier.”
Connections made during the training are already having an impact in the capital. Michal Greenwald offered a fellow participant the use of an existing platform – Women and Tales in Jerusalem — for the latter’s initiative to lower the walls between haredim and secular Israelis by bringing them together. Shula Mola, who promotes education for a shared society at the Center for Educational Technology connected with Greenwald and has begun offering her expertise about how to attract more Ethiopian-Israelis to the ranks of municipality staff and to effectively integrate them. Assaf Carmon responded to a request by Roi Grufi of Ir Amim, which works for an equitable and stable Jerusalem, to address the complaints he has received of racist attitudes on the part of parking inspectors by the city’s Arab taxi drivers. He began holding dialogues between the drivers and the management of the city’s parking department.
In that initiative, whose initial meeting went extremely well, three recommendations have been made: to assign more Arab parking inspectors to the city center, to examine the conduct of the inspectors accused of racist attitudes and to add more taxi stops.
Lecturer Eran Halperin, a professor of psychology at IDC, was a strong influence on the group. “He gave us an implementable, scientifically proven tool for reducing racist feelings in different populations,” said Carmon. “The level of racism goes down the moment you believe that the other can change. This was an important insight for our cab drivers initiative.”
“This course was very important to me and I felt honored to participate,” said Merav Maor, executive director of Jerusalem’s Museum on the Seam. “I would like to see as many training sessions like this as possible.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s already February. I’ve been keeping very busy with my fellowship and the last few months seemed to have zoomed past. I’m excited, however, to let you know all about what I’ve been up to.
I’m working at a wonderful organization called Kav LaOved (The Worker’s Hotline). We advocate on behalf of and fight for the rights of caregivers, migrant agricultural workers, refugees, house cleaners, Israelis and Palestinians. I work specifically with refugees, making sure that they receive their full pay according to the law. Every Tuesday we have eight hours of reception where we open new files and the rest of the week I contact employers to try to reach agreements for pay without going to court. During my time here, I have opened 105 new cases for workers and helped recover a total of 345,627 NIS (the equivalent of $124,195 CAD). This amount represents pay that workers were legally entitled to according to Israeli law but were not paid by their employers. This could include severance, vacation pay, pension, or even wage withholding. With the help of Kav LaOved, workers are able to recuperate these wages either on their own once we lay out and calculate what they are legally entitled to or through our direct intervention.
I have had the chance to encounter a wide range of employers, everything from people taking advantage of the fact that their workers cannot read Hebrew to employers calling to ask about the workers’ rights as soon as they hire them. Regardless of the situation at hand, it is my job to make sure that at the end of the day the worker’s labour rights are upheld to the best of my ability. Now that I’ve had a few months to get to know the type of problems that workers face, I am working with my colleagues to develop a training manual for new volunteers, not just for our office, but for other organizations that protect refugee labour rights across Israel.
In instances where there is no alternative but to pursue a lawsuit, it is my job to make sure that the lawyer has all the relevant information needed. I also get to touch on the other sectors in our office. For example, I’ve just wrapped up our organization’s contribution to the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, and will now be moving on to putting together our public annual report for 2015 for our donors and supporters. If this is something you would be interested in, please let me know and I’ll make sure to get you a digital or physical copy.
Through my fellowship I have been able to learn a lot about social activism in Israel. We have had trips to meet the heads of the New Israel Fund and heads of local NGOs in Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva. Each month we have a different organized activity. Most recently we visited to Knesset, the Israeli Parliament and met with parliament members from various parties.
Adjusting to life in Israel has had its challenges, but it has been rewarding nonetheless. As many of you know, moving to a country that functions in anything but your native language can be incredibly difficult. However given that I am currently and will continue to work with migrant groups, it has been a great exercise in developing patience and empathy. I’ve learned how hard it can be to rely on others and what a difference it can make to have people who patiently help you to resettle.
Best regards and many thanks for all your help,
Momentous news for the lives of 20% of Israel’s population was announced with eager if cautious anticipation. Two weeks ago, improvements to the Israeli budget allocated significantly more funds to Arab citizens across Israel.
Revisions were announced in key areas affecting Arab Israelis: employment, highways and public transportation, education, and housing, among other areas. Improvements are to be realized by 2022.
If implemented, the improvements will match the proportion of shekels allocated to the proportion of Arab citizens in Israel, which make up roughly 20% of the population. In some areas where lack of funding has led to significant suffering in Arab communities, budgets will surpass 20% to adjust for historic inequalities.
Behind this momentous legislation is leadership by NIFC-funded organizations like Sikkuy, a joint Arab-Jewish NGO promoting civic equality in Israel. Sikkuy has brought the need for equality between Jewish and Arab citizens front and center. Among its many innovative initiatives, Sikkuy has produced an equality index examining the differences in budgetary spending as well as conditions in schools, public safety, and employment across communities in Israel.
The improvements proposed in this legislation can further realize the great potential for active and productive life across all of Israeli society. Here are some highlights of what can be:
* Currently, only 33% of adult Arab women are employed compared with 80% of Jewish women. This plan calls for employer incentives within small businesses, daycare center construction, and employment counselling in Arab communities.
* Only 7% of public transportation monies are spent in Arab communities. Roads are left unrepaired and bus routes offer few and infrequent services for Arab citizens. Improvements call for road safety and complete equality in transportation between Jewish and Arab communities.
* Today, just 60% of Arab schools are eligible for matriculation certificates compared with 75% of Jewish schools. The plan seeks to increase the proportion of Arab undergraduates from 14% to 17% with further improvements inside Arab primary and secondary schools.
New Israel Fund of Canada has addressed the conditions of Arab communities as part of its mission towards equality for all Israeli citizens. Past projects have focused on discrimination in housing and employment, violence among teenagers in Arab schools, post-high school education for Arab students, literacy and job training for Arab women, and economic development in Arab communities.
The impact of our work is felt within the fabric of Israeli society. As we launch a new year of projects, events, and initiatives both here in Canada and in Israel, we look to tangible markers of improvement in the lives of Israelis inside every community – Russian Jewish newcomers, asylum seekers, women in Haredi society, Bedouin tribes, and the elderly poor, among others.
In a groundbreaking ruling, the High Court has ruled that women can apply to be staff directors of rabbinical courts. This follows a petition by NIFC partner Mavoi Satum and women’s rights groups Na’amat and WIZO. In August 2014, Mavoi Satum director Batya Kehana-Dror submitted an application for the position of rabbinical court director, but was rejected because she had not previously served as a rabbinical court judge or as a municipal chief rabbi – two positions that are still closed to women. The High Court has now voided this decision.
The court recommended that the rabbinical courts immediately begin integrating women into other senior positions, and gave the state 30 days to draw up new criteria for the position.
Kehana-Dror said: “After many years of discrimination and the prevention of women from taking up administrative roles in the rabbinical courts, which are responsible for the women who come to their gates, the High Court of Justice ruled that they are of equal value. The decision is a message to women that they can and must struggle for their rights and not to capitulate to discrimination.”
New NIF grantee Zazim – Community Action is supporting a protest by high school students against a controversial new civics textbook that skews Israeli history and narratives. 12th graders from across Israel have launched a petition against the new book, Being Citizens in Israel, which they argue focuses more on the Jewish aspects of Israel than its democratic aspects. More than 1,400 students have signed the petition so far. It reads: “According to experts who read drafts of the textbook, it presents Israel as a Jewish state, period, and pushes the values of democracy to the margins. The principle of the rule of the majority has turned into the tyranny of the majority, and the differences between a citizen and a subject have become blurred. And if that is not enough, the writers are also rewriting reality and ignoring the existence of a Palestinian minority in Israel.”
The new edition will replace the existing one that dates back to 2000, and will be one of three approved textbooks approved for Israeli schools on the subject. It will also be the only textbook on the subject to be translated into Arabic.
One of the leaders of the protest, Anouk Savir Kadmon, said: “As high school seniors, we are learning about democracy and we are learning that one of the duties of citizens in every democratic country is to be involved and to protest. It cannot be that in history class last year we learn about the Palestinian refugee problem that was created in the wake of the War of Independence, and then the new (civics) textbook has no mention of it.”
Outrageously, when the students attempted to deliver the petition to the Education Ministry last week, they were barred from entering the building.
But the campaign is not over. Other groups protesting the book include the Civics Teachers Council, the Academic Forum for Civics Instruction, the Israel Political Science Association, and Israeli-Arab heads of education departments.
Zazim is an emerging campaigning community for social and political change, that runs online and offline campaigns on key issues related to human rights, social justice, combating racism and the occupation, environmental protection, government transparency and independent media.
Do you want to know where your city is headed? Do you think you know your local council? Do you want to change things for the better in your town? Thinking Locally: A Manual for Action, a website/guide launched this month provides people who want to act locally with the knowledge and tools to do so. Its user-friendly home page features three key links: “I have an idea for an initiative;” “I want to know more;” and “I want to take part in the decision-making process.” Aimed primarily at the non-activist public, the manual is a collaboration between the Heschel Center, The Local Social Guard, the Union of Publicly Elected Local Officials in Israel, the Workshop for Public Knowledge, NIFD partner Shaharit, Injaz, the Center for Professional Arab Local Government and Shatil.
On Christmas Eve, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim members of the Shatil-led Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee brought smiles to the faces of children in the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya – including Syrian children injured in the civil war there — by distributing treats, gifts and holiday cheer.
And on December 21, the shortest, darkest day of the year and during an especially dark period for Jewish-Arab relations, a multi-generational group of 50 Jewish and Arab residents of Karmiel gathered for an event called “Bringing Light,” in which they engaged in dialogue, created lanterns from recycled materials, shedding light on the dark Karmiel streets.
A group of protestors who tried to disrupt the event were kept at bay by police. The event was organized by Rabbi Gadi Raviv and Shatil’s Shared Society Project coordinator Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija. Similar events organized by the Reform Movement took place in 10 other Israeli cities as well as cities in the U.S.
“I am thrilled with the participants’ excitement and energy,” said Rabbi Raviv. “People talked about what light means to them – love, hope, faith, knowing one another, and courage. It’s not a given that people who don’t know one another would talk together about peace and connection without cynicism, aggression or ego — and suddenly feel connected.” The children, he added, felt proud to be part of something important.
Diab-Abu Elhija added: “This was the first collaboration between Shatil’s Karmiel Shared Society Group and the city’s Reform Movement and that in itself is meaningful and important. It was an event that united people and showed there is another way. And that we need to keep hope in our hearts and in actions and together take steps to build a shared, respectful, accepting and pluralistic society.”
Like their counterparts in the US and other countries across the globe, Israeli women face persistent gender-based wage gaps. However, thanks to the Equal Pay Calculator – an innovative tool to encourage and enable employers to identify and address gendered pay gaps – we’re working to change the status quo and help Israeli women to break through the glass ceiling.
And our work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
After a competitive process of evaluating innovations, the Civil Service Commission publicly recognized the Equal Pay Calculator for its unique contribution to innovation in the public sector. The first of its kind in Israel, the calculator allows employers to easily retrieve information about the wages of men vs. women in their organization. It was developed by the Shatil-coordinated Equal Pay Project, a partnership with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, the Israel Women’s Network and NIFC partner Adva Center. The Calculator, together with a Wage Gaps Manual for employers, reflects an innovative transition to self-regulation on the part of employers. To see the tool, the manual and a short animated film on the subject (in Hebrew) go to the web site of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, where more than 1,200 people have downloaded it.
The end of the year is the most intensive time at New Israel Fund of Canada. Every December, we take the time to connect with each and every donor that has stood with us.
We have been closely monitoring the projects you fund in Israel. As this year’s projects reach their completion, I want to share the impact, the stories, the activist testimonials that breathe life into the work you support.
I’ve been able to speak personally with some of you, but if we haven’t had the opportunity, I want to make sure you hear about some of the amazing strides we’ve made this year:
Social and Economic Justice
NIFC and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) dedicated itself to a crucial issue this year: Racism in Israeli schools. Publishing a handbook on anti-racism education in Israeli schools, ACRI engaged youth, schools, teachers, directors and professors of education. With its trademark expertise, they conducted training sessions, workshops, held conferences and educational campaigns that focused on methods for coping with racism, freedom of expression, teaching tolerance, and imparting democratic values. Our impact was felt across the country.
Orthodox Feminist group Kolech (“your voice”) established the Gender Equality Action Group, anchoring egalitarianism as an essential value in modern Orthodox children. Because of its trusted reputation and broad reach in the modern Orthodox community, this group empowers parents and deepens their influence on curriculum content in their schools.
The Adva Center, a research institute focusing on economic trends, held dozens of courses for women in Israel’s most deprived neighborhoods and cities. Taking them through state and municipal budgets, Adva confirmed the co-relation between gender and unequal distribution of resources in Israel while developing the leadership capacities of their students.
Civil and Human Rights
NIFC once again funded a Civil Liberties Law Fellow, an Israeli lawyer who received NIFC funding to practise civil rights law in Israel. Our fellow worked with the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) regarding disconnection of low-income families and people with medical conditions that require electricity. This resulted in the IEC revising their criteria for disconnection, a major victory. Because there is still potential for human rights violations, ACRI published their objections to the new criteria and is now working with the IEC on changes in the revised criteria.
This fall has been a stressful time for Israelis. It’s now more important than ever that we hold tight to the values that drive us: Democracy. Equality. Justice.
Our mission at the New Israel Fund of Canada is the strengthening of an Israel that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants. With each project that your donation funds, we come that much closer to realizing that vision.
The support from people like you is how we’ll get there. I’m awed by the number of individuals who are joining together through New Israel Fund of Canada to make it a reality.
After more than two decades, 9,300 Ethiopian Jews will finally be able to immigrate to Israel. Known as Falash Mura, they are descendants of Jews who were forced or persuaded to convert to Christianity long ago, but who have been living observant Jewish lives for years. The recent government decision to bring them to Israel means that thousands of people who have been separated from their families for more than 20 years will finally be reunited.
“This government decision was the result of persistence, determination, and intensive activity” said MK Dr. Avraham Neguise, chair of the Knesset Committee on Immigration and Absorption. “We were simply not willing to give up – and in the end, we succeeded.”
As founder and leader of the NGO South Wing to Zion, MK Neguise has been fighting for the remainder of Ethiopian Jews to be allowed to immigrate since Operation Solomon, the covert Israeli airlift that brought 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel within 36 hours in 1991.
“This is everyone’s success, not just mine,” says Neguise, remembering the many people who acted alongside him — including Former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, Rabbi Menachem Waldman, Canadian former parliamentarian Prof. Irwin Kotler, Prof. Michael Corinaldi Rabbi Yafet Alamu, former NIF Director Avi Armoni, Shatil Associate Director Carlos Sztyglic, the JDC and many more. He gave special thanks to Rabbi Gordon Tucker of White Plains, NY, who donated funds to keep the synagogue — and therefore Jewish life for the refugees in Gondar — going while they waited to emigrate.
Neguise said that NIF and Shatil were the first organizations to support his efforts, with financial assistance from NIF and Shatil guidance in how to get organized, work with the Knesset and the media, fundraise, and more.
“From the beginning, when everyone else saw us as troublemakers, NIF and Shatil believed in our cause,” said Neguise. “NIF supported us financially all the way and in 1994 sent me on an educational tour of the U.S. where I managed to recruit supporters in the Jewish community. I really thank the leadership of NIF and Shatil.”
Neguise describes Attorney Mary Ann Stein, president of the Moriah Fund and former president of NIF, as the engine behind these efforts. In addition to financial support, Moriah funded a 1999 survey of remaining Ethiopian Jews at a time when the Israeli government worked from no official list. “This was an historic act,” said Neguise. “The government is now using this list in working to bring the remainder of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.”
Laws stipulating that Ethiopian Jews applying to immigrate must have a Jewish mother prevented earlier attempts to bring the last remnants of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel. Three Jewish grandparents were not enough for Israel’s leadership, whereas with every other group, one Jewish grandparent suffices, said Neguise.
Neguise also commended the government for recently passing a budget of NIS530 million to bridge gaps among Ethiopian Israelis education, employment, culture, and security.
In a victory for religious freedom and women’s rights, a woman who married outside the chief rabbinate has succeeded – thanks to the help of NIFC partner Mavoi Satum – in getting a divorce through a private Orthodox court. Nathalie Lastreger, 48, was divorced in the state rabbinical court when her first marriage ended, and her experience was traumatic. When she married for the second time, 11 years ago, she did so with a Conservative rabbi and insisted that if worst came to worst, she would only be divorced with the Conservative movement.
Sadly, her second marriage also ended in divorce. Her husband wanted to proceed with the Orthodox state rabbinical court. She refused to attend the hearings, was issued a ban on leaving the country. And then, in July, with an arrest warrant for refusing a divorce, she held her ground and said that she intended to appeal to the High Court of Justice. Wary of a court ruling on the matter, the Jerusalem rabbinical court withdrew the arrest warrant and allowed Lastreger to divorce in a private Orthodox rabbinical court, whose divorces are recognized by the state. The divorce was completed two weeks ago.
Lastreger, who works as a communal leader in the Conservative movement, said: “This wasn’t a war against Judaism or against the rabbis. This was a battle against the monopoly of the state courts, a monopoly which they abuse and in doing so harm women, the rights of women and do injury to the equal status of women.”
Attorney Batya Kehana-Dror, Lastreger’s legal representative and director of Mavoi Satum, said that the case would set an important precedent for the future. “Our intention is to break the rabbinate’s monopoly. We’re talking about an institution that is unreliable, since it is a monopoly and its main activity is to preserve its own power instead of finding ways to solve serious problems for women.” She said that her goal is to establish new, independent rabbinical courts that can carry out divorces, and to petition the High Court of Justice if these divorces are challenged.
Photo credit: Marc Treble – via Flickr (source)
A research project by NIFC partner Sikkuy revealed that during 48 hours of near continuous coverage on three major Israeli TV channels following the recent terror attacks in Paris, not a single Arab appeared as an expert commentator. In addition, out of a total of 23 experts, only two were women.
In a statement publicizing the research, Sikkuy said: “We don’t understand – is it really that difficult to find a good interviewee among 1,200,000 citizens? So that the picture presented to the Israeli public regarding Arab society and the regional reality will be credible and balanced, and so that Arabs really will be equal citizens, Arabs need to be interviewed throughout the media.”
The research is the first part of a new Sikkuy project which aims to ensure that Arabs will be interviewed more frequently in the mainstream media. The project has already born fruit, with Sikkuy helping Channel 10 find an Arab speaker for a recently broadcast panel discussion concerning ISIS.
Photo credit: Louis du Mont – via Flickr (source)
In a major step for social justice in Israel, Housing Minister Yoav Galant ordered the Director General of the Housing Ministry to stop all evictions of public housing residents until a committee can be organized to discuss alternatives. The announcement came mid-speech in response to a protest staged by the Public Housing Team in partnership with the Shatil-coordinated Forum for Public Housing. The activists protested the Ministry’s evictions of poor families from public housing units due to debt and other minor violations. The Minister actually paused mid-speech to order the Director-General of his Ministry to stop evictions that are underway.
“We applaud the decision of the Minister of Housing to stop the evictions,” said Forum member, Maytal Cohen. “It’s a disgrace that the state has evicted people from their homes while thousands of [public housing] apartments are held by nonprofits and other organizations that are not entitled to or in need of them, according to the State Comptroller’s report. We will continue to fight evictions and stand alongside public housing residents.”
As in the US, the gender wage gap is a persistent problem in Israel. However, thanks to our ongoing work, strides are being make to lessen – and hopefully even close – the gaps and help women to break the glass ceiling.
At the “Equal Pay: Demanding Change” conference, an oversold crowd turned out on November 19th at Tel Aviv University. The need for the conference was evident. “We planned for 80 people but the hall was filled to bursting; we had to drag in chairs from the hallway,” said Shatil community organizer Shira Eytan, who co-organized the conference. “The relevance was clear.”
Co-sponsored by Israel Women’s Network, NIFC partner Adva Center, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission at the Ministry of Economics, and Tel Aviv University’s Department of Labor Studies, the conference focused on a project-proposed reform to Israel’s Equal Pay law.
The original law provides recourse for women who feel they are discriminated against at work with regards to pay, but it leaves the burden of proof to the woman in ways that are almost impossible to fulfill, so the law has rarely been used. The reform is meant to turn the law into one that can be applied by holding the employer responsible rather than the employee. It also would take concrete steps toward equalizing wages between women and men in Israel – which are unequal by every measure, despite the fact that the Equal Pay law is 50 years old.
New York University professor Paula England, a leading international expert on women, gender and work gave the keynote speech to the 200 conference participants. England, who has been studying gender and labor markets for decades, put the issue of wage gaps in a deeper systemic, global context for the businesspeople, academics, activists, and government officials present.
The conference followed on the heels of an early November Knesset conference, “Divide and Conquer: Why is it Forbidden to Discuss Wages in the Workplace?” sponsored by MK Michal Biran (Zionist Camp) and the Equal Wages Project. Research on gender wage gaps, information on hidden discrimination and wage secrecy, and a look at the proposed legislative reform as well as practical tools for equalizing wages were presented.
The three-year Equalizing Wages in Israel’s Workforce project, about to draw to a close, is funded by the European Union.
In 1993, accompanied by our four children, we were driving north in Israel and stopped to pick up two soldiers who were hitchhiking (at that time considered to be acceptable behaviour for members of the Israeli armed services). When they entered the car, they politely placed their rifles on the floor of our vehicle, but upon seeing them our then three-year-old son began crying hysterically.
It is interesting, in retrospect, to ponder on exactly what upset him so profoundly. It was not the sight of the soldiers, as he had become well accustomed to seeing young people in uniform during our sabbatical. It was, however, the rifles he found so terrifying.
Having arrived in Israel almost simultaneously with the outbreak of the current wave of violence, I was horrified to read that the mayor of Jerusalem was exhorting those individuals [admittedly with permits] to carry guns with them in public, presumably as a way of either intimidating potential terrorists, or as a way of demonstrating Jerusalem’s citizenry’s willingness to defend itself.
Unfortunately, while out for a stroll in the German quarter of Jerusalem on Shabbat, we had occasion to encounter many individuals who opted to take the mayor’s advice. Young families strolling through their neighbourhoods with one or two adult males with a rifle slung over their shoulder, young couples coming to eat lunch in restaurants wearing rifles, walking past parking lots and noticing individuals bent over to remove items from the trunk of their cars with pistols in their pockets or on holsters.
Seeing this overt display of weaponry reminded me of my son’s tears of fear, and made me wonder how the current state of affairs in Israel has evolved, and more importantly whether New Israel Fund of Canada has, or could, be an agent to reverse the current state.
The Fund’s long history of working in building Palestinian-Jewish dialogue, fostering economic opportunities and development among Israel’s Palestinian population, sponsoring the development of educational curricula that accurately reflect the “narratives” Israel’s two largest populations, and advocating for the civil and human rights of all of Israel’s citizens would, I would have hoped, contributed to avoiding the current conflict.
However, it has become all too clear to me that as long as both parties to the conflict are willing to engage in moral relativism, and continue to engage in dialogue in which one set of children are seen as “defenders of the land promised to us” or “defenders of freedom” while children on the other side are seen as “savages” or “occupiers” (terms often used in today’s vernacular) each side is really only indulging in a particular brand of narrowmindedness.
More appropriate, it seems to me, would be to seize on this opportunity to ask why a nation that has succeeded in securing its existence is incapable of realizing that failing to ensure the civil and human rights of millions of Palestinians will never deliver security- it will only tragically ensure that children on both sides will be shooting and stabbing each other before they emerge from their teens.
I speak proudly on behalf of New Israel Fund of Canada, and more particularly what the agencies it funds in Israel have done to try to avoid conflict and sponsor mutual understanding and collaboration and build towards peace and reconciliation between and among Israel’s diverse citizenry. It is time for the fund, and its supporters, in my opinion, to become increasingly vocal and activist, to continually point out the folly of a dialogue focused on moral superiority. Until such time as we are capable of focusing on not just ourselves, but “the other” and recognize the validity of their historical narrative, all parties to the conflict will continue to have the tragic experience of having loved ones die because of our mutual stupidity.
I am glad that my children are moved to tears by the sight of guns, and am thankful that New Israel Fund of Canada, through its efforts, is contributing to spreading the message that guns are not healthy for our children, nor for building a thriving democracy in Israel. I encourage those who share these sentiments to reflect carefully as they plan their donations to the New Israel Fund of Canada this year.
Dr. Isser Dubinsky is the immediate former president and current board member of the New Israel Fund of Canada.
NIFC partner Sikkuy is taking the lead in promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence and preventing discrimination against Palestinian Israelis during this moment of increased conflict. Leading figures from the organization have been interviewed in newspapers like Calcalist (Hebrew), Haaretz (English), and The Marker (Hebrew) in order to highlight how Palestinian Israelis view the current situation. In addition, they have taken a strong stance on other issues of critical importance now such as the movement opposing boycotts of Arab business and the illegal dismissal of Arab workers by their employers.
In response to the increased public calls to fire Arab employees (and a number of actual dismissals), Sikkuy launched a campaign urging Economy Minister Aryeh Deri to oppose the illegal dismissal of Arabs from their jobs. A number of local authorities have banned Arab workers from schools because of the security situation, while others have limited when they could enter their places of work. A message posted on the Modiin Municipality’s website, for example, said: “The entrance of cleaners to the schools will be after a check by the security guard, with the cleaners to be accompanied throughout the day by school janitors. Entry of cleaning workers to do the daily heavy clean will be from 5 P.M., after the school day is over, and after a check by a security guard.”
In a statement, Sikkuy’s co-executive directors, Rawnak Natour and Ron Gerlitz, said: “Dismissal or worsening employment conditions of Arab workers because of the political situation is wrong and forbidden for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s against the law and violates the workers’ rights. But beyond that, it’s an immoral and anti-educational act taking place in, of all places, schools throughout the country. What kind of message is this meant to convey to young pupils, who are used to seeing Arab workers as part of their usual learning environment and then, during times of tension, they are made to disappear just because they’re Arabs? We must not teach children that every Arab is a threat.”
In addition to these efforts, Sikkuy – along with flagship NIFC partner the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) – also sent an urgent appeal to the Attorney- General, and distributed information to Arab workers explaining how to get assistance from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in the Ministry of Economy. These efforts have been covered widely in the Israeli media.
In 2013, then 25-year-old Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija joined NIFC-funded Shatil’s Haifa staff and simultaneously became a participant in Shatil’s Leadership for a Shared Society course. In the two years since, Doaa has become a leading activist for shared society, bringing together Jews and Arabs in in Carmiel and Upper Nazareth, and leading joint actions calling for restoring calm during the recent hostilities.
“I am Doaa Diab-Abu Elhija, feminist and social activist,” she wrote on a recent post on Shatil’s Shared Society Facebook page. “I call on the public, Jewish and Arab, not to get dragged into cycles of hate and violence… in times like these, we have to work together to calm things and to create a respectful discourse in order to promote a truly shared society.”
Doaa backs up her words with actions: On October 9 and again on October 16, Jewish and Arab members of the Carmiel group along with Women Wage Peace, the Galilee Forum for Civil Equality, and the Forum against Racism formed a human chain at a major intersection on Route 85, at the Western entrance to Carmiel opposite the village of Dir el Assad. The rally called for “calming the situation and rehabilitating the shattered trust between Arabs and Jews.”
“Many people who drove by slowed down to read our signs and to encourage us,” said Doaa, a primary organizer of the events. “Arab mayors came and shook our hands, people brought us drinks and ice cream. There was a real feeling of warmth. It looks like people want this.” The rallies drew significant media attention, with Doaa being interviewed twice on radio about the group’s activities and the concept of a shared society.
“The idea of a human chain was to show that what connects us is our humanity and that we have to fill in the missing links; to make heard the sane voices in the Galilee and in the country,” says Doaa. “At the end, we formed a circle and talked. We connected.”
A mother of two-year-old twins with an MA in gender studies, Doaa comes by her desire for Arabs and Jews to live together peacefully in the most natural way. For as long as she can remember, her family had Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends and her home in Tamra was open and accepting.
“My parents’ emphasis on respect, manners and culture guides me till today,” she says.
Doaa finds great satisfaction in her job as shared society organizer at Shatil. “I’m working for something important,” she says. “I’m very connected to values — shared society, social justice, social change, solidarity – and these are the components of the shared life. Through my work, I feel I am creating change.”
While she has vision and hope, Doaa also is “frustrated and disappointed” by the current situation.
“We return to these situations of violence over and over,” she says. “We don’t succeed in getting out of it. It’s not a summer cloud that passes.”
Doaa’s consciousness about her own identity was raised on her 16th birthday when she became eligible for a state identity card.
“Instead of writing ‘Arab,’ they put eight stars on the card,” she says. “I thought, ‘What kind of nonsense is this? Everyone knows that eight stars means I’m an Arab. I wrote a poem that day about the complexity of my identity and my reservations for the way it was portrayed on the identity card. That was the beginning.
“I started going deeper. Asking questions. My mother told me she was made to wave an Israeli flag on Independence Day when she was little. My grandfather told me about our whole village climbing up a mountain from fear in 1948 and giving their weapons to the army. We didn’t learn about these things in school and it was forbidden to talk about the Naqba (the “disaster,” as Palestinians call the displacement that accompanied Israel’s founding.) I started to read, to go to marches and at the university I learned that there was an option to say ‘I am a Palestinian citizen of Israel.’ That represents me.
“I connect this identity with everything that’s happening today. It’s hard for Israeli Jews to understand the connection we feel to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. They don’t understand it’s a blood tie… I believe that for the conflict to be resolved and to create the basis for a shared society, the occupation must end.
“When conflict starts, the discourse of exclusion begins. It hurts. I was born here. I’m not going anywhere.
“I’m also frustrated because on the one hand, I feel so much respect and love from the Jews I deal with because I’m more connected to my humanity than to politics. But not all the Jews in Israel understand how complex our reality it, or the difficulty of our daily lives. I try to change consciousness on both sides.
“I know we can live well together, like we have in the past… without negating our identities. I know if a person would relate to the person opposite him as a human being, they would get along. Our humanity connects us.
“Shared society is a dream – and a strategy. It’s not like I can do something today and tomorrow I’ll live in a shared society. It’s a dream we have to invest so many resources and so much work in. First, both sides have to want it and have to get to know each other. If everyone brings his reality and his pain, we will connect.
“At Shatil, Arab and Jewish staff know how to speak deeply. We get to know one another on a deep level. We respect each other’s narratives, and accept each other’s right to be here, so it’s easier to work together.”
“There have been shared society and peace and brotherhood activities all over the country in recent weeks. I hope we can influence our leaders.”
Following intense pressure from NIF’s Kicking out Racism and Violence program, the Israeli Police reversed its decision to cancel matches between Jewish and Arab soccer teams. The cancellation had been announced following the recent upsurge of violence in Israel and the occupied territories, which has resulted in increasing tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
NIF issued a public statement protesting the cancellation: “Even during times of violence and tension, it’s incumbent upon the police to do all it can to allow regular life to continue as normal. It is wrong to give a prize to those trying to tear communities apart… Israeli soccer is an exceptional example of shared society and equality, and the large number of Palestinian Israeli players and teams indicates an exceptional level of integration which must be preserved, even if this requires extra security. We call on Israeli soccer teams to do all they can to promote shared society during these difficult times.”
NIF’s statement was complemented by efforts from other important figures including Labor MK and former sports broadcast Zohir Bahloul. Kicking out Racism and Violence plans to build on this achievement at next week’s match between Hapoel Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin by holding a high profile pre-match event under the banner of “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies.” During this period, it is vital that Israeli soccer, which in many ways is a beacon for integration between Jews and Arabs, does its utmost to help reduce tensions throughout the country.
“It doesn’t make sense that an elderly person living in this country has to choose between medicine and food.”
-MK Orly Levi-Abekasis of Yisrael Biteinu.
“Poverty is not a disease. It is a result of policy. And policy begins at the top.” -MK Haim Yalin of Yesh Atid.
On October 20th, the International Day Against Poverty was marked in the Knesset. During a full day of activities, organized by the NIFC-funded Shatil and Rabbis for Human Rights-led Forum against Poverty, policy and decision makers committed to action.
Fourteen of the 17 Knesset committees kicked off the day by tackling growing poverty among women, single parents, the elderly, Palestinian Israelis, immigrant communities, and more. Among the operative decisions of the day: MK Eli Alalouf, author of the government’s poverty report and chair of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee, committed to tracking the government’s actions on his committee’s recommendations; Welfare Minister Haim Katz announced a new law that would ensure income support to minimum wage earners; NIS 25 million will be added to the budget for education grants for 1st to 12th grades for single parent families; and the chair of the Economics Committee came out against disconnecting the electricity of poor families who have problems paying their bills.
More than one million Israelis live in poverty. According to the OECD, Israel ranks third on the poverty scale among developed nations, with only two countries worse off – Mexico and Chile. For people living in poverty, worries over potential homelessness, having their electricity cut off, putting food on the table, and providing for their children’s basic needs are daily concerns.
Maya Vanunu, invited to share her personal story during the Welfare and Labor Knesset Committee, expressed her frustration. “The allowance I receive from social security does not even come close to getting me through the month. It is not enough to cover my most basic bills.”
Together with NIF grantee Rabbis for Human Rights and the Haifa Partnership for the Eradication of Poverty, Shatil worked tirelessly behind the scenes to organize the event. Shatil’s poverty forum co-coordinator Odeya Shabtai, said that the success of the event was reflected in the large number of activists living in poverty who attended and influenced decision-makers: three hundred and fifty people filled the Knesset’s assembly hall.
“We believe that people living in poverty know best what needs to be done,” said Odeya. They have the knowledge and experience from their own lives. Any action taken by policymakers must be in collaboration with them.”
Among the other activities that took place to commemorate this day, Arab and Jewish children from a bilingual school showed they are united with a common cause when they called on politicians to fight poverty – a poignant move during these days of high tension. Rabbis for Human Rights also published a collection of personal stories from people living in poverty.
The New Israel Fund of Canada sends its deepest condolences to the families of those who have been murdered and our wishes for a full and speedy recovery to those injured during this latest deadly wave of terror.
Particularly at this time, we who love Israel must maintain our resolve towards a democratic and peaceful Israel, with equal rights for all citizens, while rejecting violence, sympathizing deeply with victims of terror and hoping and working for a return to stability.
With pledges of commitment from all over Canada, NIFC contributes to tolerance and healing in the midst of the current environment in Israel.
As we lend moral support and prayers to our friends in Israel, we and our partner, New Israel Fund, are also responding with action. The following emergency responses have already been launched:
* Sikkuy, a joint Arab-Jewish organization addressing issues of inequality, is tackling Arab firings by employers in the midst of this tension.
* AJEEC-NISPED, an organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of Bedouin Israeli citizens, is galvanizing local leaders in the Negev to rally against escalation of violence.
* With assistance from Shatil, Tag Meir, an anti-racism organization led by Jewish leaders across the religious spectrum is organizing a series of visits to both Jewish and Arab victims.
* Shatil facilitated a joint Jewish-Arab demonstration in Karmiel this past weekend in favor of tolerance and shared living. The initiative, widely covered in the local media, is being developed across the Galilee to further strengthen voices for tolerance.
The work that NIFC has supported for thirty years has developed strong bonds across society. It is only because of the trust that comes from working together, shoulder to shoulder, year after year, that emergency responses like those in progress can have traction.
We follow the communication of our activists in Israel and of our staff in Jerusalem and have reason for hope. Our activists are refusing to let extremists subvert the society they have worked so hard to build. Intolerance is not an option. Giving up is not in their DNA.
We want to share this photo with you, one that has taken off on social media over the past few days:
As always, thank you to our supporters for strengthening the capacity for hope in Israel through the work of our activists.
Follow this link to a message from NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch: http://www.nif.org/news-media/press-releases/statement-on-recent-events-2/
Orit Sarfaty, Executive Director & Joan Garson, Board President
On Saturday night, hundreds of Israelis attended a rally in the center of Jerusalem entitled “There is no comfort in revenge,” to protest the escalating violence in the country. The demonstration in Hamashbir Square was arranged by three grassroots groups -Free Jerusalem, Jerusalem Won’t Remain Quiet About Racism, and The Young Guard, who wanted to make a statement against the cycle of violence and terror that is plaguing Israel. The New Israel Fund and Shatil provided financial assistance and advice on staging the rally and many of those who attended and spoke were NIF activists.
“The mood was somber and discussed the consequences of violence and intolerance from a personal and moral rather than political point of view,” said Shmulik David, Shatil’s consultant on policy change who attended the rally. “A small number of right-wing demonstrators heckled the speakers but their voices were drowned out.”
A large number of those who attended the rally were Orthodox Jews who cited Old Testament sources to support the message of human dignity, tolerance, and mutual respect for all the region’s peoples and warn of the dangers of racism, incitement to revenge and violence.
Two of the principle speakers were from the NIF family – Batya Kahana Dror, who founded Mavoi Satum that fights for the rights of women unable to obtain a religious divorce, and Gadi Gvaryahu, chairman of the NIF-convened Tag Meir coalition. The two other speakers were Jerusalem activist Rabbi David Menachem and Yigal Elchanan, whose sister was killed in a terrorist attack 18 years ago in Jerusalem.
Gvaryahu said, “Man was created as an individual to teach us that to lose one person is to lose an entire world, while to save one person is to save an entire world. Every family murdered or burned and every person murdered or burned is an entire world and we call on everyone to stop this cycle of bloodshed. Revenge is no comfort. Those who shout “Death to Arabs” in the streets of Jerusalem are no different from those who shout “Slaughter the Jews.”
He concluded, “Rabbi Shimon Ben Chalafta said in the last Mishnah of the Tractate Utzkin ‘ The Almighty does not have any other tool to keep a blessing for Israel, but Peace! The Almighty gives strength to His people, the Almighty blesses His people with Peace.’”
Enbal Singer has always been a social-justice minded person. “I donated to the Darfur crisis when I was twelve with my allowance.” Says Enbal.
Originally from Israel, Enbal is a recent graduate of McGill University with a degree in Political Science. She has spent years volunteering and working with immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in Israel, the US and in Canada. “The refugee crisis in Israel made me feel that it was an issue that I wanted to work on long-term. I’m Israeli, but I’ve lived here for years. To see something so hard happening in Israel really did inspire a calling in me. I’m connected. That’s why I got involved with refugees.”
Enbal has volunteered with the African Refugee Development Centre (ARDC) in Israel. Working with asylum seekers on a day-to-day basis helped her understand the political and social landscape for African asylum seekers in Israel. “They don’t qualify as refugees, but they’re an important population whose needs need to be addressed.”
Enbal is looking forward to exploring the policies and processes for asylum seekers in Israel as well as the day-to-day movements to help this growing community, something that has inspired her to pursue a career in Law when she returns to Canada. “NGOs will often separate those things, but I don’t think you can separate the individual from policy. Both are really important, but if you want long-term action, you need to affect policy. And that’s why I went into law. Ultimately, you need to think macro changes, otherwise you’re constantly addressing symptoms of issues instead of the issues themselves.”
“There are huge differences in the needs of the refugees and immigrants in Canada and in Israel. In Canada, refugees will have places to live but need help working through the process of applying for asylum. In Israel, we need to help someone find a place to sleep that isn’t Levinsky Park while helping them with their applications. Canada is a better example of what NGOs can accomplish. I think that’s why the Social Justice Fellowship is important- we in North America have the benefit of seeing how an NGO can function at its best and we can share that with NGOs in Israel. I’m excited to bring all that experience to Israel.”
The Social Justice Fellowship is providing a key experience for Enbal on her path to becoming a lawyer. “The timing of the Fellowship was perfect. I’ll be going to law school in 2016 but I wanted to have this experience first and I knew I wanted to be in Israel for this year, working with refugees. It’s a great experience to see the real world before you sit in a classroom for the next few years. I wouldn’t be able to do that without the New Israel Fund of Canada.”
Enbal says that this will offer her a tailor-made experience that she could not have gotten elsewhere. “The Social Justice Fellowship has incredible flexibility and you can make choices about what you want to focus on.”
As she embarks on her year in Israel, Enbal will take some advice with her from Canada. “Everyone says, ‘have a support system!’ By the time I finish the year, I’ll be fluent in Hebrew again. But people have told me that I need a support system to help me through the challenges of working in a different language and working in a different atmosphere. These issues are tough, and I have to have a community to rely on so it won’t feel isolating.
Other advice? Stay true to your values. Let it change you but don’t let it change who you are.”
We wish Enbal all the best and look forward to hearing more about her year in Israel.
While children throughout the country were excitedly (or reluctantly) going back to school, children from the Bedouin village of Al-Fura attended a protest demanding a primary school and four kindergartens for children in the unrecognized village.
In a makeshift school held in a tent, MKs Dov Khenin and Hanin Zoabi joined representatives of NIF grantees the Negev Coexistence Forum and Adalah, the Regional Council chair, the head of the Educational Department from Ben-Gurion University, and many activists from nearby Arad and from the Bedouin community.
“It’s sad that we are still struggling for the most basic of rights,” said Shatil community organizer Amir Abu Kweider, himself a Bedouin. After the protest, the government announced that it would build the school, although not in the location the villagers want it. “We are continuing the struggle,” Abu Kweider said.
The event was part of an intensive community organizing process led by Shatil’s Be’er Sheva office, which assisted residents in forming a community leadership council, filing multiple petitions with the Ministry of Education and the regional council, gathering necessary information, and connecting with professional organizations. The event catapulted the village leadership’s determination to fight for the school and recruited the broader Bedouin and Arab community to take up the cause on behalf of the village.
An annual survey by NIFC partner Hiddush has shown an increase in public support for religious freedom, with 95% of secular Israelis currently unhappy with the government’s religious policies. A large majority support civil partnerships and state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions. The survey also found that 81% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis are also dissatisfied, because they feel the government is not doing enough to enforce religious observance.
The survey revealed that 64% of Israelis support civil marriage or civil unions, and 64% also support same-sex marriage (compared to 56% in 2014). Seventy-nine percent of Israeli-Jews oppose the government’s plans to increase yeshiva budgets, while 82% support the mandatory implementation of core curricular studies in all ultra-Orthodox schools.
The survey, which began in 2009, is the most comprehensive opinion poll on religion and state issues in Israel. Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev said: “There is clearly a growing, solid, overwhelming majority of Israelis who are unhappy about the way religion and state are linked and impacting the lives of individuals and the state. The public clearly does not like what the Israeli government has provided it with.”
Hiddush Chairman Stanley P. Gold added: “I have become more and more concerned about the crippling unholy alliance between religion and state. The findings of the new Religion and State Index confirm my concerns and validate my conviction that one cannot exaggerate the necessity to finally break this union so that Israel can truly be the “home for all Jews” as Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly declared. I sincerely believe that, for Israel to remain strong, the advancement of religious freedom is no less important than strengthening its economy and defense.”
“Every line is the perfect length if you don’t measure it.” – Marty Rubin
It’s a fifteen minute walk to shul from my house. As I headed out with my son for services this past Rosh Hashanah, I offered him a trailer of what was to come once we arrived. I figured I had time, so I waxed poetic. Now more than ever, I expressed, we look inward and seek to improve our behaviour. The annual process of asking forgiveness of others and of ourselves and then – one step further – to resolve to improve things is intrinsic in the very way we approach the annual cycle. First, we assess the ways in which we have behaved. It’s after this that we can take action to improve.
With three blocks to go and my kid’s attention span waning, I cut to the chase. It boils down to two parts – identification and then action. A focus on one or the other separately misses the point.
If we stop at the first, we are in for a lot of heartache. Simply counting the ways in which we have behaved leaves us without direction. That type of examination focuses our gaze backwards, to past actions. Beyond self-recognition, the exercise has its limits in terms of impact for the future.
Alternately, if we skip over the first and jump to the latter – improvement without proper self-examination – our actions may be misdirected. Efforts at improvement may, in fact, be hollow gestures if they are not tied to existing needs.
Resolution to progress is forward-facing. Action that follows from diagnosis is redemptive and hopeful and envelopes us with optimism. A discussion with my son on the Jewish New Year finds both a literal and a broader philosophical meaning for the work we do in Canada and Israel.
At events across Canada, attendees learn about the current status in Israel of women’s rights, religious pluralism, civil liberties, and economic justice. And, at every event, attendees are given the opportunity for action – to support the projects that New Israel Fund of Canada is committed to year in and year out.
Earlier this month, at symposia in Vancouver and in Toronto, over 600 people learned about NIFC-funded Shatil’s work in raising awareness of the gender wage gap in Israel, an issue for Israel that places it second to the bottom among countries worldwide according to the OECD.
In partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Economics’ Equal Employment Opportunities Commission as well as the Israel Women’s Network and Adva (both NIFC-funded organizations), Shatil launched the Equal Pay Project (http://english.shatil.org.il/equal-pay-for-equal-work/). This website offers an online equal pay tool for employers to easily retrieve information about the wages of men versus women in their organizations. The website also offers an employer’s manual outlining ways to assess and mitigate wage gaps in the organization.
The tool itself as well as the partnership that formed it are both considered landmark initiatives in the work to shrink gender wage disparity in Israel. The project offers a measure for assessing the current economic status of women and stakes out a path for progress.
Broadly speaking, it is this two-pronged approach that outlines the basis for the work New Israel Fund of Canada does. In our project funding and events such as our annual Symposia, analysis of current social issues gain critical importance in their capacity to initiate progress. In her remarks, Ronit Heyd, the Executive Director of Shatil, stated that it is through love of Israel from which examination of its current social and economic status springs. Further, identification of social issues can then increase the impact of the actions we support to address them.
Thank you to all of New Israel Fund of Canada’s donors for the past thirty years. Thank you for your commitment to understand the issues critical across Israeli society and then taking part in meeting the potential that we and our colleagues in Israel truly believe in.
Two weeks ago, after four decades of waiting, the Israel Electric Corporation connected the Al-Sayyid elementary school to the national power grid. Four other schools in the Bedouin village will be connected before school starts in September. The victory is the result of a petition filed by NIF-funded Adalah to the Supreme Court more than two years ago calling on the state to fulfill its obligations towards Abu Sayyid as well as two other recognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and their school systems.
Until now the schools, which serve some 3,000 students, have been running on generators that when inspected by an engineer from Adalah, were found to be emitting poisonous fumes and occasionally leaking diesel fuel.
And not only are the schools of the three villages included in the petition being connected (the work has been completed for two of the three so far), but two schools in the village of Mulda, which was not included in the lawsuit, are being hooked up as well.
“Everything in the Bedouin areas happens after a Supreme Court petition, like the building of the schools themselves and the connection to the power grid,” the director of the Al-Qasum Regional Council, Mutzlach Abu-Asa, told Haaretz. “The schools in the village have been operating since the 70s on generators. But we don’t look backwards, we look forwards.”
The Fringe Theater Festival has long been a popular attraction and symbol of shared society for both Jews and Arabs in the mixed coastal city of Akko. Its four-day lineup, held during the Sukkot holiday in the fall, features a competition of original plays, street theater, workshops, concerts, and open-air performances by both local and international theater companies.
But this year, when the schedule was released, NIFC partner Sikkuy was surprised to discover that not a single performance in Arabic had been scheduled. Furthermore, the festival organizers had decided to only advertise the event in Hebrew.
“In this of all times there is a need to cope with hate and incitement. Especially here in the Galil, which is shared between Jews and Arabs, it’s disappointing to discover that Arabic culture and the culture of Arab citizens is excluded from this activity,” Sikkuy wrote.
“If they are really interested in the establishment of a Jewish-Arab cultural space, they have to invest an active effort in the advancement and encouragement of Arab artists and Arab art in the festival. This is the way to prove the sincerity of their intentions to create a shared festival.”
Sikkuy is an organization of Jewish and Arab citizens working for full equality between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel.
Dr. Wharton immigrated to Israel from her home in New Jersey thirty years ago. Since then, she has served in the army, joined a kibbutz, and earned her doctorate. Today, Dr. Wharton is a proud Jerusalem resident, a member of the city council, and a professor of political science at Hebrew University. NIF caught up with her to discuss the latest developments with SHABUS, her initiative to address the lack of public transportation in Jerusalem on Shabbat.
Why is SHABUS necessary?
The government doesn’t allow public transportation Friday night through Saturday night, but there are a lot of people who want to go out, see friends, and enjoy the city. If they don’t have a car of their own, they have no way of getting there.
The lack of public transportation is a problem in Jerusalem because it’s such a big city – some of the neighborhoods are ten kilometers from downtown. You can’t just walk. And taking a taxi is very expensive.
Jerusalem is experiencing a cultural rebirth right now. There’s more to do in the center of town so the frustration is increasing. We are providing a service to Jerusalemites and visitors who want to go out and don’t have the means to. But we also want to encourage all the flourishing cultural and entertainment ventures in Jerusalem. If people don’t have a way to go into the city, the growth of all these initiatives is limited. We’re a really important connector for providing life in Jerusalem.
How did it start?
It started almost two years ago when a number of people started talking to me about their travel problems. I got together with a bunch of friends who were concerned about the issue and we started working on a charter for cooperative transportation.
How does it work?
It’s important for us to make it easy to join so it’s widely available and as accessible as possible. You go onto our site shabus.co.il and fill out a form along with 20 shekels to become a member. As a member then you have the opportunity to take our minibuses that run on Friday nights from 6 in the evening until 4 in the morning.
Why did you make SHABUS a cooperative?
The ministry of transportation refuses to approve any kind of public transportation. But if one founds an NGO or a cooperative and the cooperative runs the transportation, it’s considered private. So we got our charter approved for “The Cooperative Transportation Association of Jerusalem.”
Is there a possibility that this could go national?
Since we established SHABUS in May, a number of other cities have started similar initiatives and we’ve been helping them. Just this morning I read about another one in Rishon Lezion. There’s one in Tel Aviv and Givatayim that’s doing very well. The guy that founded it is in touch with us and we’re very proud to be his inspiration.
We’re also very proud that this grew out of a grassroots initiative and we’re really filling an important role. We now have a working, legal alternative in a field that the government has been negligent in dealing with.
Has there been a lot of opposition?
Surprisingly not. The Ministry of the Economy approved it and it’s a private thing. And we’ve done everything we could so it doesn’t offend or trouble anyone. We don’t go through any religious neighborhoods, we use mini, not full-size, buses so they don’t make a lot of noise. We actually even received an award in the Knesset for being a green initiative that provides an alternative to private cars.
So what’s next for SHABUS?
We’re looking into partnerships with other businesses and organizations we can work with, all kinds of places around town that are open on Fridays and Saturdays. Last week we formed a partnership with the Hapoel Katamon soccer club. Their games start late on Friday afternoon and don’t end until after Shabbat so there’s no public transportation for people who want to see them play. We specially altered our route so fans who want to come to the game can do so. We advertise the soccer club games and the soccer club advertises our services. Otherwise, there would be no alternative for their fans.
We’re interested in expanding and working on Saturdays as well so we’re looking for new backers and supporters who can help us. We expect that, in a year or two, we’ll be able to balance out but at this point we still need help in expanding and growing. We welcome help and partnerships with anyone interested and willing to support us.
Last month, NIF made an emergency grant to SHABUS to help keep the project running. The grant was made as part of NIF’s investment towards establishing civic spaces and advancing religious freedom in Israel.
Following a Supreme Court ruling in late August in response to legal petitions by NIF-supported organizations, the Israeli government has freed 1,178 African asylum seekers from the Holot Detention Center. In accordance with the court’s instructions, all Holot detainees who had been held for more than one year were released.
Upon release, the asylum seekers were given a two-month renewable residency permit, 80 shekels each, and strict instructions not to settle in either Eilat or Tel Aviv.
Adam, a 27-year old Darfuri asylum seeker who was interviewed by the Times of Israel, said that he came to Israel because he “heard that it’s the only democratic country in the Middle East and the conditions are much better than other countries in Africa. I heard that you can go to school, you can work and it’s a lot safer than Egypt.” But after a time in Tel Aviv, he was arrested and put in the Holot Detention Camp.
He was released last week and took a bus to Be’er Sheva, planning to stay with another asylum seeker who was a friend of his.
But now, after his imprisonment in Holot, living and working in Israel is no longer his goal. “I don’t want to stay here anymore. I don’t feel like a citizen,” he said. “I feel like I could end up back [in Holot] again. You never know.”
NIF groups will continue to advocate for a fair and sensible immigration policy that respects human rights and balances the ideal of the Jewish homeland with the Jewish obligation to help the stranger. It is in the absence of such a policy – and the lack of a clear policy with respect to undocumented migrants already living in Israel – that has pit asylum seekers against Israel’s urban poor.
Why I Am a Supporter of the New Israel Fund of Canada,
Guest Post by NIFC Board Member Norm Hanson
I am a son of first generation Canadians, and the grandson of Eastern European Jews who fled the pogroms, and the Tsar’s army, in search of a life free of oppression and persecution, a life where one’s opportunities were not governed by one’s religion or ethnicity.
My grandparents built that life in Canada, and became part of the Canadian Jewish community which so successfully melded a Jewish life within the larger context of a Canadian life, whose bedrock attributes were (and thankfully, remain) democracy, human rights, freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice (or not to practice at all), the ability to succeed and get ahead through hard work, separation of religious authority from government authority, and the general sense that one had agency in one’s own life.
I grew up in that community, and cherish the very same freedoms and principles that convinced my grandparents to uproot their lives. Like most Jews my age, I attended a Hebrew day school, whose program stressed Zionism, Hebrew language instruction, and a love of Israel through learning about Kibbutzim, Israeli folk songs, Israeli geography, modern Jewish and biblical history, and inculcating in our minds the eternal connection between the Jewish people and that magical place called Israel.
And we learned about the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the founding document for the amazing return of Jewish nationhood in the ancient land from which our ancestors were exiled. And embedded in that document were the very same bedrock attributes that inform our democracy in Canada. Israel was to be a modern democracy, open, protective of the rights of all citizen including its minority communities.
The New Israel Fund of Canada works to support and strengthen the democratic foundations of the State of Israel, as set out in the Declaration of Independence. By providing much needed financial support to organizations that work tirelessly in the areas of social and economic justice, civil and human rights, religious pluralism, and tolerance, the New Israel Fund of Canada involves itself in the tough, challenging, messy but ultimately rewarding work of nation building. As much as Israel may need support to continue building its physical infrastructure, it’s need for support to maintain and strengthen its democratic infrastructure may be even greater. If, for Israel, we support things like civil rights, social justice, religious freedom and pluralism, fairness for all citizens, just treatment of minorities, humane treatment of asylum seekers, women’s rights, ending racism – things that we value so much here in Canada – then the New Israel Fund of Canada offers a way to demonstrate that support. You will find the incredible activists who are supported in part by the New Israel Fund of Canada, working in all of these areas and more.
I am a Zionist, and a lover of the State of Israel. This is work that resonates so strongly for me, and it is why I am a keen and ardent supporter of the New Israel Fund of Canada. I invite you to join me as a supporter.
Norm Hanson is a board member for New Israel Fund of Canada. He resides in Edmonton, Alberta.
Like so many others, we were shocked by the horrific events at this year’s Jerusalem Gay Pride March. Six marchers were stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man. 16 year old Shira Banki, one of the injured, died from her wounds. Just two days after the attack, NIF helped organize a major demonstration in Jerusalem’s Zion Square calling on authorities to take firm action against homophobia and xenophobia. Under the banner “Love Always Wins,” thousands gathered to grieve and to demand action from the government to rein in Jewish extremists.
New Israel Fund of Canada has been a long time advocate for equality for gay Israelis. We seed funded gay rights organizations, and we have pressed for progress as part of our civil rights advocacy.
At the rally, President Rivlin gave a powerful speech. “These flames, which are consuming all of us, cannot be extinguished with weak condemnations [by politicians]. These flames cannot be extinguished with solidarity rallies. Not even with this rally,” the president said.
“These flames cannot be extinguished with posts on Facebook and statements in the media. These flames cannot be extinguished with repression, denial and disregard. Incitement, ridicule, frivolity, laxity and arrogance of the heart cannot extinguish the fire, but only allow it to burn stronger, with fervor, to spread in all directions, and permeate all walks of life.”
“We must be thorough and clear; from the educational system, to those who enforce the law, through to the leadership of the people and the country. We must put out the flames, the incitement, before they destroy us all. We will not be zealots. We will not be bullies. We will not become an anarchy.”
The New Israel Fund of Canada stands with the President in his call for strong action against homophobia and all forms of incitement and violence.
In late July, two suspected Jewish settlers entered the West Bank Palestinian village of Douma. They threw Molotov cocktails into two houses and spray-painted “Revenge” and “Long live the king messiah” in Hebrew and a Star of David on the walls. The aftermath of the fire was horrific. A n 18-month old child, named Ali Dawabsha, was burned to death. His father was hospitalized and later succumbed to his wounds. His brother is currently hospitalized in critical condition with severe burns covering the majority of his body.
As Israelis and Palestinians mourned the loss, the NIF-convened Tag Meir coalition organized a trip to the village in order to show their solidarity with the bereaved and to provide whatever comfort was possible to the villagers. More than 100 Israelis took part in the visit. The simple act of a solidarity visit can help bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians.
Amid the ashes of the nursery, a charred tricycle and toys were found. They met with relatives of the family who had been attacked and bore witness to the terrible crime that had been committed there.
Arson has become a popular tactic among Price Tag — violence by radical settlers imposing a “cost” on divergence from their political agenda – attackers in the last few years, but very few have resulted in convictions. Since 2009, there have been 43 mosques and churches set on fire or vandalized by Jewish extremists, but perpetrators were indicted for only one of those incidents.
Though it was a very difficult trip, Tag Meir Chairman Gadi Gvaryahu said it was vital that Jews come to show respect to the family. “It was important for us to come look in their eyes and say, ‘This is the worst thing a person from our nation could do,’” Gvaryahu said. “To say that we’re sorry, that we’re shocked. It’s not a mistake to come and meet people and ask forgiveness.”
Healthcare inequality is a serious issue in Israel, especially for those living on the geographic and economic peripheries. But a group of Galilee mayors and hospital directors are working to change that. On July 14th, 20 Arab and Jewish mayors came together with the directors of six northern hospitals to fight for health equity in Israel’s north. The meeting was organized by NIFC-funded Shatil’s Citizen’s Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee, whose members also attended the gathering. The meeting strategized a joint campaign to bridge the serious health gaps between the north and center of the country.
Hosted by Carmiel Mayor Adi Eldar and facilitated by Shatil, the meeting addressed the central health issues facing Galilee residents including the diversion of patients to distant hospitals and clinics, the lack of rehabilitation facilities, and the lack of transparency in the use of government funds allocated to the healthcare for the periphery.
The northern region of Israel has a health profile significantly worse than the center, with a lower average life expectancy and an infant mortality rate that is more than twice as high. There are less than half as many doctors per capita compared to the national average and significantly fewer nurses and hospital beds relative to the population size.
The Citizen’s Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee was established in November 2014 and is composed of graduates of Shatil’s Northern Health Equity Leadership Trainings conducted in cooperation with flagship NIFC partner the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Galilee society, JDC-ELKA, and other organizations.
“We are excited and encouraged by the participation of people in high places in our work toward health equity in the north,” said Shatil health project coordinator Lev Aran.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
– William Bruce Cameron (and attributed to Albert Einstein)
Evaluating the effectiveness of social change – a complex and often long-term process – isn’t easy. In the framework of a larger effort to help social change organizations and foundations build their evaluation capacities, NIFC-funded Shatil organized a study day called “Between Request and Result in Advancing Social Change – on Foundations, Advocacy Organizations and Evaluation.”
The gathering convened 90 non-profit leaders, funders and evaluators to jointly learn about and share knowledge, insights, and tools developed in recent years to deal with the challenges of evaluation of policy change.
A keynote address by David Devlin-Foltz, Vice President for Impact Assessment at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program, was followed by a panel focusing on the possibility of NGOs and foundations in Israel being more effective partners through the use of evaluation tools. The day ended with round tables in which NGOs and foundations explored the best practices of collaborating around effective evaluation.
“This workshop strengthened my belief that evaluation is first and foremost of vital interest to the organization itself – independent of funders’ demands,” said Adv. Michal Pinchuk, executive director of the NIFC partner ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel. “Evaluation is very important and one of the main challenges we face as organizations working towards policy and social change. A day like this is most important, helpful and welcome. This is a first step in the right direction, but there remains a need for more targeted training focused on practical tools and methodologies. Shatil plays an important role in training and bringing these tools and strategies to the field.”
The day was designed in partnership with a steering committee consisting of NGO leaders, foundation representative and evaluators: Ron Gerlitz, co-director of Sikkuy; Dr. Jenny Cohen; Batya Kallus of the Moriah Fund; Dr. Sarit Ben Simhon-Peleg of Yad Hanadiv; Shatil Committee Chair and NIF Vice President Itsik Danziger and Yuval Piurko of The Zofnat Institute.
It’s easy to overlook the strides of Ethiopian Jews in Israel in the midst of reported discrimination, violence, and racism on public streets against them. While there is a great deal more work to be done, a recent study reports the progress that Israel has made with regards to its Ethiopian population. Alongside the advancement of Ethiopian Jews, projects funded by New Israel Fund of Canada and New Israel Fund have promoted equal opportunity, full integration, and respect for this population’s rich history.
As NIFC celebrates 30 years of activism in Israel, here’s a chance to reflect on progress in Israel through a very particular lens.
Ethiopians making Aliyah to Israel tested the country’s belief in equality and justice towards all of its residents. Immigration to Israel among Ethiopians grew in steady numbers through the 1980’s and escalated in the 1990’s. The immigrant population entering Israel was young. Ethiopians quickly enrolled in schools and found jobs across the country.
At the outset and throughout their integration into Israeli society, New Israel Fund and New Israel Fund of Canada readily acknowledged the potential that this group had of not only making a life for themselves in their new surroundings but also contributing to the success of Israel as a whole.
Last month, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel published the results of surveys studying Ethiopian Jewish well-being from 1998 through 2011*. Here are some highlights:
-Employment rates of Ethiopians substantially increased over ten years, climbing from just half of working-age Ethiopians holding down jobs in 2000 to almost 75%. Today, they mirror the employment rate among Israelis as a whole.
-The rate of Ethiopian women finding work has increased from just 35% to nearly two-thirds of women age 25-54.
-Ethiopian Jews with advanced degrees are equal to their non-Ethiopian Jewish graduates in finding work in highly-skilled professions.
-Though the rate is lower than the rest of the Jewish-Israeli population, 1 in 5 Ethiopians graduating from Israeli schools work in the highest echelon of Israel’s professions.
And, still, this population continues to trail behind:
-An Ethiopian family is bringing home one-third less income than the average Israeli household.
-While non-Ethiopian Jews make up 40% of those with a college degree, Ethiopian Jews make up half that proportion.
-Older Ethiopians, particularly women, find work mostly in cleaning or kitchen services, with education levels far below others their age.
Of particular interest is the relationship the study found between the age of Ethiopians when they entered Israel and how they’re doing today. The younger they were when they immigrated, the greater Ethiopians’ educational level and employment prospects. These young people found opportunity through early integration into Israel’s schools, community life, health care, and professions. Like other Israelis, they worked hard to realize the promise of Israel as a “Start-Up Nation.”
Since the early days of mass immigration to Israel, New Israel Fund and New Israel Fund of Canada have worked to break down barriers keeping Ethiopian Jews from fulfilling their potential. NIF and NIFC funded major publicity campaigns emphasizing that Ethiopian Jews are Israelis too; training for women to enter the workforce as entrepreneurs; anti-discriminatory coaching in the workplace in preparation for Ethiopian integration; widespread celebration of and pride in Ethiopian Jewish culture; first aid response to domestic abuse in Ethiopian Jewish households; and legal education to those facing discrimination in housing, employment, and education.
A shared commitment among Ethiopian Jews and Israeli society is behind the latest news of advances for this population. Committed for over three decades of projects in economic and social justice, New Israel Fund of Canada and NIF are proud to contribute to the continuing progress for Ethiopian Jews – and for all Israelis.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch has apologized to Linda Siegel-Richman, an American Jewish woman who was barred from approaching the Kotel because she was wearing a kippa. The apology came after Rabbi Rabinovich received a protest letter from NIF partner Women of the Wall.
Women of the Wall said it was outraged by the incident and harshly criticized Kotel officials for threatening to arrest Siegel-Richman. It also criticized the Orthodox Western Wall Heritage Foundation for ignoring a court ruling that allows pluralistic Jewish worship at the Western Wall.
Segal-Richman, from Colorado, is in Israel on a Conservative Movement yeshiva study program.
In a major setback for religious freedom in Israel, the Israeli cabinet has approved a proposal by the religious party Shas to cancel the reform of the Jewish conversion process begun by the previous government. Minister of Religious Services and Shas MK David Azoulai rubbed salt in the wounds of much of world Jewry by declaring, “Reform Jews aren’t Jews.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of NIFC partner the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, has demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reprimand Azoulai. He also said, “The Israeli government has awarded a prize to the Orthodox monoply, even though its only achievement has been the double one of driving the Israeli public away from Jewish tradition, while continuing to harm the basic right of Israel’s citizens to equality and freedom of worship.”
Rabbi Kariv added, “The Cabinet decision to transfer the rabbinical courts responsible for conversion from the Justice Ministry to the Religious Affairs Ministry shows just how far the rabbinical courts are not part of a proper and democratic justice system but merely a branch of the corrupt and degenerate rabbinical establishment. This decision gives young couples in Israel another reason to turn their back on marriage at the rabbinate and vote with their feet and hearts against the rabbinical monopoly.”
“In this situation,’ he concluded, “We call on the forces of moderation in religious Zionism to shake off the illusion that the State rabbinical establishment can be rebuilt from within through short-term reforms, and to redesign State-religious relations in Israel on a community, clean and pluralistic basis.
The fight against racism in Israel is often couched in the language of the modern American civil-rights movement, but support can come from more traditional Jewish sources as well. Writing in 1920, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the most important thinkers in Religious Zionism, argued that “the love of Israel requires the love of all mankind.” This statement, together with a range of other Jewish texts and teachings, formed the basis of the curriculum for Shatil’s course on racism and Judaism, which recently graduated its second cohort.
Held in partnership with Neve Schechter-The Legacy Heritage Center for Jewish Culture, the course brought together individuals united by their desire to use traditional Jewish teachings in the fight against racism. Some participants came from organizations already involved in combating racism, but many hoped to expand their existing work to include an anti-racism component.
By focusing on Jewish texts, the course not only provided a self-reflective experience for its participants, but also equipped them with tools to motivate other people who are more engaged by Jewish discourse than by human rights language. In this vein, course participants were encouraged to develop their own projects at the end of the course, which they will carry out with support and guidance from Shatil.
Boaz Ahad Ha’am, project manager for Access Israel, plans to produce a series of online lectures in sign language about the phenomenon of racism and how to fight it. While language barriers can often exacerbate racism, sign language is exactly the same for Hebrew and Arabic speakers, allowing it to be a unique point of intersection.
“I intend to make accessible the ideas of racism and tolerance to the deaf community,” said Boaz. He decided to participate in the course because he was looking to explore “alternative views of Judaism that allow for tolerance and non-chauvinistic or non-jingoistic views.” In addition to providing him with a wealth of materials for future action, the course gave Boaz the impetus to take action and begin preparing this lecture series.
Course participants came from various organizations, including Reshet HaYeruka, an environmental education group; Tmura – the Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism; and Women Wage Peace. Their planned projects include introducing anti-racism concepts into a women’s leadership course at WIZO and a video of women singing lullabies in many languages that will be used to raise awareness about a variety of issues.
“Shatil is a wonderful arena for activism,” commented Boaz, adding that its strength comes from the way it “infuses both theory and practice so that it won’t be either too theoretical or merely field work.”
A new website was just launched by the Ministry of Economics Equal Employment Opportunities Commission featuring the Shatil-developed online equal pay tool, which allows employers to easily retrieve information about the wages of men vs. women in their organization. Also on the site is an employer’s manual outlining ways to assess and mitigate wage gaps in the organization as well as other project publications.
In tandem, Shatil is engaged in a campaign targeting employers to increase awareness and use of the new tools.
The pay tool and campaign were developed as part of the The Equal Pay Project, a partnership between Shatil, the Israel Women’s Network, Adva, and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
This site marks an important victory in the battle against gender pay gaps.
We, you and I, or people just like us in Israel, can indeed make a difference. I could point to many grassroots organizations founded by committed volunteers and funded by the New Israel Fund. They are the reasons I am a supporter of NIFC: how could I not support these good people?
In the face of many recent racist activities by Jewish extremists, in Israel, it is hard to retain at all times faith in the future despite our personal commitment. At moments of deep distress, I try to remember that we can change the facts on the ground with determined and smart actions. There is one organization which I would like to single out as my proof text: Tag Meir (“Light Tag”). It is a ray of light in dark times, and a demonstration of the difference which actions consistently with our values can make.
The website for Tag Meir is excellent. I will let that site tell the story briefly.
“Tag Meir (Light Tag) is a grass-roots organization founded in 2011 which works against racism in Israel.
Wherever there is racism, and in particular religiously motivated racism, Tag Meir seeks to expose and counteract it. Tag Meir seeks to transcend religious divides, enlisting support from across the Israeli spectrum, from secular through Reform and Conservative to Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox. Tag Meir seeks to highlight and publicize the outstanding anti-racism work undertaken every day in Israel by a multitude of organizations and individuals. In addition, Tag Meir sees the battle against racism as also a part of a campaign to support democratic values, and the very traditional Jewish values of loving our neighbours and justice for all.
Tag Meir works in partnership with a forum of like-minded organizations and institutions in Israel, from the social justice-focused New Israel Fund to Jerusalem’s religious and cultural institution Beit Avi Chai. Our partner organizations help to direct the work of Tag Meir, and to publicize its events, many of which are held at short notice following racist attacks.
The name Tag Meir was coined in response to the name Tag Mechir (Price Tag). In recent years, a small percentage of extreme right-wing settlers have chosen to respond to what they perceive as discrimination against them by the Israeli government by performing acts of violence and desecration against Arabs, Christians and minority groups in Israel and the territories. The settlers label their attacks Tag Mechir, Price Tag, with the intention of sending a coercive message to Israel’s government: this is the price you pay for failing to support our cause as we see fit….
Whatever their politics, the majority of Israelis oppose acts of violence against innocent people who are being used as pawns in a political fight that has little or nothing to do with them. Tag Meir offers these Israelis the chance to voice their opposition and publicize it to those who need to hear: the victims, Israel’s government, the general public, and the world beyond Israel who care about what happens here…
After the burning of a mosque near Hebron, Tag Meir organized a delegation of people to visit the town, apologize to its residents and religious leaders, and offer material support. After the fire-bombing of a taxi-cab at Bat Ayin, Tag Meir organized a delegation of supporters to meet near the site and visit the victims in Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem, just outside Jerusalem. After the desecration of the monastery in Latrun, Tag Meir organized an on-site demonstration of solidarity with the victims and protest against the attackers; the five hundred people who attended listened to music and speeches by representatives of the monastery and Jewish leaders from across the spectrum: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.
Tag Meir’s work extends well beyond responding to Tag Mechir. In 2012, following the riots against African refugees in South Tel Aviv, the home of Eritrean refugees in Jerusalem was fire-bombed. Tag Meir organized a protest nearby and helped the family with material support. In 2012 an Arab teenager was lynched Jerusalem’s city centre for no reason other than being an Arab. Again Tag Meir protested nearby….”
I have friends in Kol Haneshama, my synagogue in Jerusalem, who are active in Tag Meir. Many readers of this article will have worshipped at Kol Haneshama, and will (I hope) be moved as I was. These friends are acting out our shared values through Tag Meir. In preparing this brief article, I asked one friend, an Oleh (immigrant to Israel) from Canada and former president of Kol Haneshama who is now spending more and more time on leadership in Tag Meir, for information to share. He provided me with this story from Tag Meir:
“…Tag Meir organized a solidarity event bringing Jewish and Arab teens to board the light rail trams in Jerusalem and engage travellers in Arabic. Over a hundred students participated and spoke Arabic and handed out Arabic phrasebooks and sheets with a code leading to a website with different greetings in Arabic. We are happy to report that we received a warm reception all along the way!
The event was a response to the many incidents of Arabs being attacked on the light rail and the streets of Jerusalem, just for speaking Arabic.”
Tag Meir is a wonderful example of the refusal of good people to accept bad behavior. I am proud that the New Israel Fund has played a key role in supporting its work. And I ask myself: if I were there, and not here on a beautiful spring day, would I join its work?
New Israel Fund of Canada
Long-time NIFC contributors like Sharon Weintraub are at the forefront of supporting leadership in shared society in Israel.
Weintraub has lent her financial backing for NIFC’s partnership with flagship partner Shatil, for its Leadership for a Shared Society initiative. Shatil will create a cadre of skilled leaders from a wide range of spheres who are able to advance a shared society for Israel.
The tragic and ongoing violence, incitement and growing polarization between Jews and Arabs in Israel in recent months have brought a new sense of urgency to this work.
“[I]t is important to say that the vision of living together, so needed in Israeli society, is one that deals with the shaping of a civil language, with the building of a joint economy, and with the forging of a shared Israeli identity,” he said. “This is a vision, and an Israeli hope, of which we are in need.”
These remarks were shared by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at a recent event with International Friends of Givat Haviva (The Center for a Shared Society).
The 20% of Israel’s population that is Arab-Palestinian suffers from discrimination in employment, education, and housing. Individually and collectively, these citizens experience racism, alienation, and a denial of their identity. Unfortunately, the extremely heated and tense atmosphere in Israel over the past year has created a significant deterioration in the discourse, leading to calls for greater exclusion and separation rather than tolerance and inclusion.
In an effort to counter these trends, Shatil is working toward the cultivation of a shared society, in which Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy equal rights and feel a sense of belonging equal to that of Jewish citizens. This should be manifest in equal representation, access to services and institutions for Palestinians and inclusive processes that enable all Israelis to take part in making decisions that affect their lives. It should also be visible in a more tolerant discourse and accepting atmosphere among the Jewish population and in the wider Israeli society.
Shatil uses the strategy of leadership development to address this burning issue. Their experience has demonstrated the importance of training community leaders who can work effectively towards sustainable cross-sector partnerships. These leaders have the capacity to realize both Rivlin and Weintraub’s dream of shared, equal society in Israel.
Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis gathered at the Holot detention facility in the Negev for a pre-Shavuot ceremony raising awareness about the unjust treatment of asylum seekers and calling on the Israeli government to align Jewish teachings with their actions. This trip was organized by the rabbis with funding and support from the New Israel Fund.
The event took place prior to the first night of Shavuot, a holiday which reflects upon the gift of the Torah with a focus on embracing the stranger, “love the stranger for you were also strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The Rabbis came to Holot by bus from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat, Be’er Sheva, and elsewhere in Israel. Instead of the traditional Shavuot ceremony, a special ceremony was held by Rabbis and asylum seekers together, in both English and Hebrew. A succession of speakers was followed by a joint prayer.
“In Holot, there are human beings, created in the image of God, who are suffering,” said Rabbi Susan Silverman, co-organizer (and member of the NIF International Council), with Rabbi Nava Hefetz of Rabbis for Human Rights. “Any rabbi arguing over kashrut certification or a Ktuba from 1840 while ignoring the real suffering in our midst is forsaking a sacred duty.”
Rabbi Hefetz added that, “We must remember the divine commandment from Leviticus 19:33-34 ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as if they are your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God’.”
In recent years, Jerusalem Day has included a “Flag Parade,” in which extremists march through Palestinian neighborhoods in and around the Old City. Spitting, shoving, vandalism, and racist chants — including “death to Arabs” and “the mosque will burn” — have become part and parcel of the event.
Dovetailing with the parade this year, local Jerusalem residents, with help from NIF and Tag Meir, organized a “Flower parade,” handing out flowers in the Old City as a gesture of peace and solidarity with its Muslim residents.
“We’re Jerusalem residents and we were very worried about the parade,” said Tzurit Yair, one of the organizers of the event. “We knew that it was bad last year and we were afraid it would be even worse this year. We said we have to do something, to show that there are people who think differently. We wanted them to see Jerusalem Day in another way – an opportunity to celebrate all city residents. And we thought what could cheer people up? We bought, with help from the NIF, about 1,500 flowers. Around 400 people participated in the event.”
“There were beautiful and very emotional moments. People were really moved. And there were moments that were much harder. In some places they were too upset and wouldn’t take our flowers. But I think that even those who wouldn’t take a flower were probably happy that someone wanted to give them one. I hope that in the coming years, the March of Flowers will continue to grow.”
The route of the Jerusalem Day “March of Flags” was contested days before by NIF partners Ir Amim and Tag Meir, but the Supreme Court decided in favor of the nationalist marchers, allowing the parade to go through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Nonetheless, the court ordered the police to arrest anyone calling for violence or vandalism immediately. There is “zero room for tolerance for those provoking violence, verbally or physically,” the court said.
In the end, despite the thousands of “March of Flags” participants going through the Muslim Quarter and the worries of the police, the parade proceeded in relative calm, although there were a few isolated incidents of anti-Arab behavior. This calm is, in large part, thanks to efforts by Ir Amim and Tag Meir before the march on social networks, in the Israeli media, and in the court as well as the local Jerusalemites involved in the Flower Parade.
Recently, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon attempted to begin a three-month trial to segregate Jewish settlers from Palestinians on public buses going between Israel and the West Bank. During this trial period, Jews in the West Bank would ride one set of buses and Palestinians another, and all Palestinians, including those vetted for work permits, would be forced to re-enter the territories through four checkpoints.
The backlash was both harsh and immediate.
Pressure came from all over Israel, from members of Knesset, from the public, from international figures, and of course, from NIF partner. Yesh Din, one of the leading human rights groups in the territories, wrote, “We will continue to stand guard and will not rest until this subject falls completely from the agenda.”
As public pressure mounted throughout the day, including harsh criticism from President Rivlin and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, it became too much for the new government to bear. Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly shut the trial down. “The proposal is unacceptable to the prime minister,” an official said. “He spoke with the defense minister this morning and it was decided that the proposal will be frozen.” In a matter of hours, Israeli public opinion and civil society succeeded in reversing the government’s injustice.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Ze’ev Barkan
In 2015, New Israel Fund of Canada celebrates 30 years of activism in Israel. In the same period that we look ahead to the next 30 years, I’ve been engaged in describing what sets NIFC apart.
This year is our opportunity to share with you the story of New Israel Fund of Canada and, more broadly, the story of activism. What does it take to improve lives? To transform society?
New Israel Fund of Canada asks that question every day and has done so on behalf of all Israeli citizens for the past 30 years. NIFC, along with its partner New Israel Fund, has partnered with over 850 grassroots organizations and contributed over $250 million towards transforming Israeli society since 1985.
And if you look across all 850 organizations, all 30 years, you find one unifying message that describes NIFC very clearly: NIFC works for the equality of every citizen in Israel. Equal access to health care, equal access to higher education, an equal shot at achieving their own potentials.
But equality takes on different forms for different communities, especially in Israel.
**Today in Israel, if you want to get married, you must get married under the laws of Orthodox Judaism – you have to prove that your parents are Jewish, you have to agree to the terms of a divorce which can only take place if the husband approves of it. For secular Jews, equality means the right to marry anyone they choose, in any way they choose to do it. What has NIFC done to address this? NIFC has built leaders in the Orthodox community that call for women’s equality in the public and legislative sphere.
**Despite universal health care in Israel, an Arab-Israeli child has access to significantly less medical attention than a Jewish-Israeli child the same age. For Israel’s poorest, equality means equal access to emergency rooms and infant care and life-saving prescriptions. NIFC has provided emergency healthcare to Israelis on the periphery. We also help NGOs organize and strengthen themselves to better serve the people that they represent in the public arena.
**In Israel, a woman riding a public bus is pressured to sit at the back of that bus so as not to offend ultra-Orthodox men who may feel embarrassed at the sight of a woman sitting alongside them. For women, equality means sitting anywhere on the bus, not just in the back. NIFC has pioneered funding and support for the women who now lead Israel’s greatest women’s organizations. They have blazed the trail for the next generation of women who challenge the Ultra-Orthodox claim on their lives and bodies.
New Israel Fund Canada approaches equality the way that grassroots activists do. Block by block and village by village, we partner with organizations – often quite small ones – that have first-hand understanding of barriers to equality and the tools to address them. NIFC works at a very human scale. And because we have been around for so long, our projects have touched nearly every community across Israel – Haredi families, Bedouin tribes, working families in Tel Aviv, and farmers in the Galilee.
We are singularly effective in these two ways: the sheer extent of our reach AND the human scale approach to equality.
This is activism that works. It is activism grounded in Israeli experience rather than coming from the outside. Only a fierce belief in Israel’s future can fuel 30 years of NIFC’s work. Only the continued support of our donors makes that possible. Thank you!
Over the past year, hate crimes – including acts of violence – and intimidation have been on the rise. In this increasingly tense atmosphere, many Arabic speakers, afraid of being harassed, think twice before speaking Arabic in public.
But on Monday, a group of Jewish high schoolers worked to change that. As part of an effort to reinforce the city’s multi-cultural reality, the Jewish teens boarded Jerusalem’s light rail proudly – and loudly – speaking Arabic. The effort was spearheaded by the NIF-convened Tag Meir coalition together with Matach – the Center for Educational Technology (CET).
Around 150 students, teachers, and supporters boarded the light rail at 11 AM at the Jerusalem Municipality station, and rode it to the Mount Herzl station. During the journey they spoke only Arabic to one another and to the other passengers. The students also handed out Arabic phrasebooks and links to a website with different greetings in Arabic.
Among the participants was Druze college student and IDF veteran Tommy Hasson, who, earlier this year, was attacked by a gang of ten Jews in Jerusalem in January for speaking Arabic.
At the Mount Herzl station the group alighted and held a ceremony that included the singing of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.
Myriam Darmoni, Director of Civics and Shared Life Education at the CET, said, “Education is the answer to the worrying and growing phenomenon of hate crimes. Ahead of Lag B’Omer, we decided to light the fire of hope on the Jerusalem light rail. Together with teachers and students, we’ll help bring hearts together.”
Merav Livneh-Dill, NIFC-funded Shatil’s Pluralism coordinator and member of the Tag Meir steering committee, stated that the event was designed to show that “We dare not leave Jerusalem’s public space in the hands of extremists. It was time for us to make our voices heard and to reclaim this space.”
Moving forward, Tag Meir is working to ensure that the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March avoids the Muslim Quarter in the Old City, so as to prevent the recurring spectacle of young men chanting anti-Muslim slogans in the wee hours of the morning in an Arab neighborhood.
Enough of Racism
A uniformed Ethiopian Israeli soldier walked alone in Tel Aviv. Without apparent cause, a police officer approached him – soon joined by another – and began to beat the soldier. The brutal attack was captured on video and soon released on social media. Demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with violence instigated by a few protesters, erupted not just due to this single incident of police brutality, but as a reaction to decades of institutionalized racism and discrimination.
An appalling 65% of Ethiopian Israeli children live in poverty and 56% of the community receives help from the Ministry of Social Services. Ethiopian representation in higher learning is abysmally low. And unemployment in the Ethiopian sector is more than double the national average.
Despite much higher rates of military enlistment than the national average, Ethiopian Israelis are often held back by socioeconomic factors and racism. Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers make up 3% of the IDF but 13% of the IDF prison population. Their rates of dishonorable discharge are higher too – 22.8% for men and 10.6% for women, compared to the national averages of 16.5% and 7.5%. The prison sentences and discharges are generally related to charges of desertion, which has more to do with poverty than their willingness to fight (the army’s meager $100 a month isn’t enough to support their families so many Ethiopian-Israeli soldiers try to work on the side during their service and can’t make it back to the base on time).
Tebeka, the first Ethiopian legal advocacy group, and a partner of NIFC, was seed-funded by the New Israel Fund many years ago. The organization, whose name means “advocate for justice” in Amharic, has been involved in these issues for years. During the recent protests, Tebeka opened a hotline for Ethiopian Israelis to report incidents of police violence and to help jailed protesters secure legal representation.
Representatives of Tebeka said, “We are witnesses to another case of police violence against Ethiopian Israelis and this time we are talking about a soldier. Until the Israeli police deal harshly with the guilty policemen and send a clear message that the task of the police is to protect citizens and not to attack them for no fault of their own, no branding campaign will succeed in removing the stains of injustice from their uniforms.”
“Thirty Years of Pain” Interview with Gidon Ambaya: A Community Organizer’s Response to the Protests
Name: Gidon Ambaya
Title: Shatil Community Organizer for the Ethiopian Community
What does Shatil do to support Ethiopian-Israelis?
We work with local communities around the country. In Ashkelon, Yavne, Ramle, Kiryat Malachi, Hadera, we work to improve the local schools, employment opportunities, health care. We hold conferences and we work with disconnected youth. That’s the first part.
There’s also politicians in the local areas we work with as well. These are volunteers, they’re not paid by the municipality, and they work to advance the community. We do projects with them, advise and consult with them. We try to figure out how they can do what they do better and more effectively.
Were you surprised by the protests that erupted recently?
The problems didn’t surprise me but the protests did. The protests were very difficult for me to watch. It’s the youngest generation. It’s not my generation, it’s not my parents’ generation. These kids were born here, they were raised here, they served in Operation Protective Edge. It was hard for me to see it. The sheer numbers of people who went to the protests, the anger, the pain surprised me. Thirty years of pain.
Do you think there will be positive outcomes to the protests?
It’s hard for me to believe, but I’m hopeful. The government needs to take responsibility for these problems and to turn a new page, to change things. The two sides – the community and the government – need to work together. Otherwise in two years there will be a much, much worse protest and it will be hard to stop it.
My generation and my parents’ generation said thanks for everything. They used to call us very nice and today they are saying we are violent.
It at least encourages those who knew [about these problems] to do something about it and those who didn’t know to learn. I pray that the government and the country will take responsibility for these 130,000 souls.
I’m not saying the government doesn’t invest in the problem either. The government invests too much money, but in the wrong way. If you invest in education you have to start from zero, from the pre-schools. That’s not what they’ve been doing and the results they’ve received … well there aren’t any.
I hope there will be meaningful change but we forget so easily about things here in the Middle East. It’s not simple.
It’s important to point out that the protests were not about housing, employment, education – they were protests against racism. That’s what the people were protesting.
Progress For Public Housing
Over the course of the year, the Shatil-coordinated Forum for Public Housing has been intensively lobbying politicians from across the political spectrum in an effort to ensure that public housing is a central component of the incoming government’s agenda.
This week those efforts started to pay off. The recently signed coalition agreements with the Mizrachi Shas and centrist Kulanu parties contained a clear commitment to build 700 public housing units, or designate a minimum of 5% of units to be built for public housing (whichever amount is greater).
Activists of the Public Housing Forum, trained by NIFC-funded Shatil, were in constant touch with key members of the Shas and Kulanu parties, and held several public events prior to the elections in order to highlight the need for any party claiming to represent social-welfare values to advance the issue of public housing.
“We welcome this development that finally there is an initiative to rehabilitate public housing” said Shatil policy expert Danny Gigi. “The coalition agreements providing for public housing are a direct result of our connection and advocacy work. It is clear that there is much work left to do, to make sure that these provisions are indeed implemented, and to add new measures, but this surely represents a big leap forward.”
In about a week amidst troubling developments in Israel, groups of young Canadians all across the country will be sitting down for Shabbat dinner to discuss issues of social change in Israel. NIFC is producing a program that injects text study on social issues into an intimate gathering inside young people’s homes.
The response to the program has been tremendous; nearly every seat at every table is accounted for. And – here’s the kicker – the underlying reason why these people are coming together now comes down to a resolute belief in Israel’s potential.
Why is this noteworthy? Following current events is vital to understanding Israeli society more fully. Yet, a singular focus on individual events can overshadow the recognition of incremental progress in the realm of civil society.
Take the following events in the past month:
- *The Immigration Authority has ordered the deportation of African asylum seekers to an unknown country against their will.
- *The High Court has granted the Rabbinate permission to continue to blacklist “adulterers”, primarily women.
- *Five babies have died in recent weeks at makeshift daycares for asylum seekers.
In the worst cases, current events like these can lead supporters of Israel to despair and apathy.
If those sentiments prevailed in Canada, then we should be staring at uneaten challahs and empty wine glasses instead of a program at full capacity. On the contrary, our participants have expressed a confidence – if a complicated and sobering one – in Israel’s progress: Israel can absolutely address its issues. In fact, it’s doing so bit by bit. But, progress takes a great deal of understanding, effort, and empathy. It starts with getting to the root of Israel’s problems and then working very hard to address them.
One participant told me, “I know what the issues in Israel are. Things aren’t perfect. Are Jews and Arabs about to live in harmony on the streets of Tel Aviv? Is racism about to evaporate? It’s about the long game and understanding what’s really behind the problems affecting Israelis.”
This is the focus of our program, “Food for Thought”. Adapted from a similar series in the United States, “Food for Thought” will be delving into the roots of religious pluralism in Israel, both historically and into the present. Participants will read from the Talmud on excommunication. They’ll then apply early beliefs to the present day, examining issues such as interpretations of modesty, women’s rights and religious freedom.
Why is NIFC sponsoring this event? If participants are supporters who are committed to a strong and equal Israel, NIFC has the responsibility to bring them face-to-face with social and civil issues, their nuances, and their origins. Because of our work on the ground in Israel for the past thirty years, NIFC has first-hand experience with both the struggles and the landmark successes in the progress of Israel’s civil society. Finally, if NIFC is committed to seeing the progress we have made continue into the next thirty years, it’s this generation who will be leading it. They are tomorrow’s activists, thinkers, philanthropists, and leaders. It is our responsibility to sustain the commitment of this cohort, to support their lasting hope for – and to grow their understanding of – Israel.
On March 19th, the Hapoel Katamon team, the Football Academy of East Jerusalem, and NIF’s Kick It Out initiative jointly launched a new soccer academy for Jewish and Arab boys in Jerusalem. The academy launched on Thursday as part of a celebration for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
About 100 kids from soccer teams in West and East Jerusalem crowded together on the field. Although it was only their third time meeting, genuine connections were already forming. In a city like Jerusalem that is so divided, it was heartwarming.
The “Team of Equals” is bringing together boys – aged 10-12 – from neighborhoods across the city. The goal of the initiative is to introduce Jewish children from West Jerusalem to Arab children from East Jerusalem in order to combat the division and hostility between them and to advance a shared life in the city.
Four players from the professional soccer team Hapoel Katamon, including star player Aviram Baruchyan, the professional manager of the club, and trainers from the Football Academy in East Jerusalem, came to greet the young players and assist with their training.
The response so far has been incredible. NIF has been inundated with requests from parents in neighborhoods around the city who want their children to participate, and the social media response has been uplifting as well.
At the end of the first day, the organizers gave each child a “Respect” football donated by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). At first they didn’t understand, then got very excited as they realized they were being given balls to keep. “Is it really mine?” one of the children asked.
The Israeli government has allocated $4.25 million for new daycare facilities in South Tel Aviv following the tragic deaths of two babies in a single week in overcrowded nurseries designated for the children of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees. Both dead children, one boy and one girl, were four months old. Three other refugee children died in similar conditions last month and there have been 14 additional child deaths in the past few years.
NIF partner organizations, including Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), have been warning for years that the situation in these “baby warehouses” is inhumane and unacceptable, and that it is a stain on Israeli society that children must suffer such neglect and dangerous conditions.
ACRI’s Rotem Ilan said, “Israel has signed the International Covenant on the Rights of Children and has a legal and moral duty to take care of children living in Israel regardless of the identity of their parents. The situation is getting worse and how many more babies must die before the government acts to end this lack of supervision and enforcement of standards in daycare centers.”
There are roughly 3,000 young children of asylum seekers and economic immigrants in Tel Aviv spending most of their days in nursery care.
All the noise made by the Public Housing Forum in the weeks leading up to the election is paying off: Just five days after the election, the Bank of Israel called on the new government to decrease the country’s growing poverty rate by increasing the number of public housing units — especially in the country’s center where it’s easier to find employment — as well as increasing rental assistance for people who qualify. In a special chapter on public housing in its annual report, the Bank noted that despite growing poverty rates, government housing assistance has eroded in recent years and is now at half the average of other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
“The Public Housing Forum welcomes the intervention of the Bank of Israel in the public housing crisis,” said Shatil policy change expert Danny Gigi. Shatil is a partner organization of New Israel Fund of Canada’s. “The Bank of Israel understands what we have been saying for years: that public housing is the key to solving multi-generational poverty in Israel. The Bank also adopted the two central recommendations of our struggle: to increase the number of public housing units available and to make the criteria for eligibility more flexible.”
The Shatil-coordinated Public Housing Forum includes 10 organizations and grassroots groups.
In its report, the Bank stated that 37% of families that rent apartments spend more than 40% of their income on rent and “suffer from the excessive burden of the cost of housing.” Only in Spain and Greece – two countries experiencing severe financial crises – is the rental burden higher. The report was critical of government officials who for years ignored people’s need for public housing, cancelled apartment purchase grants (except to Ethiopian immigrants), and cut mortgage and rent subsidies in spite of the increasing cost of home purchases. The government’s housing aid was cut from more than four billion NIS in 2000 to less than half that much in 2014.
“The Bank of Israel’s statement is the result of heavy pressure exerted by the Forum and its member organizations during the election period,” said Gigi. “We are confident that the Bank’s position will help us to pressure the government to make the necessary changes in order to save public housing in Israel.”
Health care gaps in Israel have grown to alarming levels. Particularly concerning are the gaps in care and status between the north and center of the country. The first annual Galilee Conference on Health Equality, organized by NIFC- funded Shatil’s Citizens Forum for Health Equality in the Galilee, worked to address these gaps.
Some 160 Jewish and Arab mayors, doctors, medical school professors, and other health workers and activists attended, giving a push to Shatil’s efforts on this front. The conference was hosted by Ma’alot-Tarshiha Mayor Shlomo Bohbot.
Or Ilan, director of the Interior Ministry’s northern branch, set the tone for the conference when he said, “Here in the north we have nice views and clean air, but we pay for it with six years less life expectancy.”
He promised his office would make health matters a high priority.
Prof. Itamar Grotto, head of a government committee tasked with expanding services to the north, told participants, “The question isn’t whether to expand health services in the north but how.”
The Citizens Forum for Health Equality in the Galilee, comprised of graduates of Shatil’s health equality trainings, continues to advocate for equal services to residents of the north, half of whom are Arab and many of whom are poor.
Photo credit: Morgan / meddygarnet – profile; photo
In honor of International Woman’s Day, NIF’s Kick it Out initiative – which works to combat racism on and off the field – held a special event called “Equal on the Pitch.” The event, designed to emphasize gender equality and promote female athletes, was a great success.
To kick off the day, there were a series of games between players from the national women’s under-19 team, who will be representing Israel in the European Championship this summer, and 40 young players from high schools in the Netanya region.
After the games had finished, journalist Dana Spector hosted a panel discussing the issues Israeli women face in sports alongside a prominent group of female athletes, broadcasters, and coaches from around the country. Broadcaster and commentator Sharon Peri said, “In my career I needed to take a lot of insults from men in order to arrive at the position where I am today. There are very few women in this field and every one of them must hold fiercely onto her spot so no one will take it from her.”
This was the opening shot in a series of major events NIF is holding in the lead-up to the Under-19 Women’s European Championship that will be held in Israel this summer.
Equal on the Pitch was organized by Kick it Out in coordination with the Israeli Football Association (IFA), and Athena, the Israeli Council for Women’s Sport.
When Shared Society is more than just a lofty goal
Nearly since our inception, New Israel Fund of Canada has worked intensively with Shatil, its partner in Israel committed to helping emerging charities not only take shape but succeed in transforming society. Shatil is extraordinary as a pivotal catalyst in Israeli civil society. Shatil’s work is diverse, but can be generally summarized as providing training, mobilization, networks, and funding tools to Israeli NGOs.
Oftentimes, these NGOs are created by ordinary citizens who, despite having little formal knowledge of how to run a not-for-profit, are nevertheless compelled to do so in response to a local need. This is where Shatil comes in. Across a wide spectrum of charities, geographies, and cultures, Shatil strengthens the operations of fledgling organizations and increases their abilities to impact Israelis’ lives. Shatil will train administrators in basic bookkeeping, marketing, and human resource management. Because of its reach across civil society in Israeli, Shatil is capable of locating space for meetings, finding partners, and getting the word out about conferences and public campaigns. Where there is a good idea to address social ills, Shatil is there to convert it fully into action.
One such idea is Leadership for a Shared Society, a project in which New Israel Fund of Canada is a proud partner. This program brings together Jewish and Arab leaders in focused discussion, coursework, and joint projects and requires a multi-year commitment from each participant. This program was launched in response to a dearth of citizens skilled in creating joint Jewish-Arab initiatives, such as shared schools, community centers, and joint municipal planning. The result of such intensive engagement is a long-term trust that these local leaders – teachers, council members, social workers among them – then translate into new initiatives for their neighbourhoods.
Let me tell you about two such leaders. A local council member, Alla Barhoum, and a Bible teacher, Hamutal Elbaz, met in a Leadership for Shared Society course. In thinking back on her experience, Elbaz recounts her initial enthusiasm to “meet Palestinian Israelis as equals.” Not long after beginning the course, however, Elbaz reflected that her interactions “challenged me to the core.” She says, ”Suddenly, I [saw] I’m not as open as I thought. The dialogue made me realize what an important place my identity plays in my life. And that led me to understand the same thing about [Arab-Israelis].”
About their fellow participants in this course, Barhoum remarked, “They are special, thoughtful, active people – Christians, Jews and Muslims with very different world views. I constantly learn from them.” Says Barhoum, “The course is an incubator in which we increase our…skills so we can advance our own initiatives. The discussions about shared public space inspired me.”
This shared understanding is meaningful in itself. But there is a post-script. In speaking with my colleagues at Shatil, I have discovered that Barhoum and Elbaz are currently developing a project to promote tourism to little-known Arab and Jewish communities. Both leaders credit the course for the project’s inception.
Activists from NIF partner Tag Meir visited the home of hate-crime victim Tommy Hasson, a Druze student and IDF veteran, last week. A group of Jewish youth brutally attacked Tommy last week at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station in front of dozens of passersby and security. His assailants taunted him for speaking Arabic, spat in his face, and then brutally beat him with broken glass bottles and other sharp objects. Hasson, who is twenty-one years old and studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, was recently discharged from the army after serving in the Druze Herev Battalion, and then as military secretary to the president.
Tag Meir activists visited the Hasson family to support Tommy and to condemn all violence and racism in the name of Judaism. During the visit, Rabbi Gilad Kariv spoke about the story of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who, according to tradition, is a prophet in the Druze religion. Tommy’s father praised the deep connection between the Druze and the Jews. At the end of the evening, Tommy played piano for the crowd.
In the days following the incident, six of the teens responsible for the attack were arrested. President Rivlin expressed support for Tommy as well, writing in a Facebook post: “Tommy, a Druze who was recently released from army service as the military secretary to the president, is hospitalized at Hadassah Hospital after being severely beaten last night. I talked to his father this morning and could not believe my ears. A man who is integrally linked to this country, attacked with such terrible violence. We are brothers, and all of us must condemn terrible behavior like that.”
Tag Meir is the largest grassroots organization working against hate crimes and racism in Israel.
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” – Gloria Steinem
As a prelude to International Women’s Day, senior human resources officials attended a seminar on wage equality sponsored by the Equal Pay Project and hosted by the Manufacturers Association of Israel on March 1st.
Women in Israel earn an average of 31.9% less than their male counterparts in similar positions. The Equal Pay Project, run by Shatil, the Israel Women’s Network, the Adva Center and Israel’s Equal Opportunities Employment Commission, is working on a number of initiatives to level the playing field.
Knowing that collaborating with employers is key to bridging the gender wage gap, the seminar organizers recruited the Manufacturers Association of Israel — representing 2,000 industrial organizations, which in turn are responsible for more than 95% of the country’s industrial production – to attend and discuss key issues pertaining to wage parity.
Speakers at the seminar included representatives of the Project as well as the head of the Manufacturers Association. Attendees also learned about the Project’s innovative new online equal pay tool, which helps companies assess wage gaps in their organizations. And Association President Shraga Brosh called for a round table composed of representatives of the Project and of industry in order to promote wage equality.
The event was an important step in engaging employers to assume increased responsibility for proactively working toward equal wages. The project will soon publish a guide for employers on implementing organizational processes to equalize wages.
The Public Knowledge Workshop is trying to put government data in the hands of the people. One way they are doing this is with their “Open Laws Book” on Wikimedia – an online database of Israeli laws open to everyone.
But when Tsvi Davir, a volunteer at the Public Knowledge Workshop, uploaded the current Israeli Tax Ordinance (the law according to which all income tax in Israel is collected), the last thing he expected was to be sued, much less by the Tax Authority itself. But unbelievably, that may happen. Soon after posting the information, he received a letter threatening a lawsuit for violating the Tax Authority’s copyright. The full ordinance is not available in any single collection or book published today.
“In my eyes it’s crazy that in a government of law, there is no official version of the Tax Ordinance and the Authority is not taking responsibility for it,” Davir said. “The establishment of the Open Laws Book project in 2015 is a response to the meager effort of the country to put out a single, official version of the laws. Friends of the Workshop are doing the job of the authorities completely for free, and at the end of the day we are sued for it by the authorities themselves.”
The Public Knowledge Workshop is a non-profit organization whose mission is to release public information and make it easy for the public to meaningfully engage with the data. Their goal is to transform government data into public knowledge and empower public participation. The New Israel Fund is a proud supporter of their efforts.
NIF Israel Director Rachel Liel made a powerful speech at the Haaretz Democracy Conference. Watch it here.
Progress in religious pluralism was brought forth in a major victory a few weeks ago in Beit Shemesh, a city about 30 kilometers west of Jerusalem. Four modern Orthodox women sued the municipality for not removing signs on buildings and billboards reading: “Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style.” Representing these women was NIF-funded Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). (Read more in this month’s newsletter.)
The victory serves as an important precedent that protects women’s rights on the public streets of Israel. The Beit Shemesh municipality has called these signs a means to navigate between the accustomed norms within its society and the secular culture in and around it.
Here is more of what the decision had to say with regards to the case:
“The signs were designed to restrict women from using public spaces simply because they were women… and constitute a severe injury to the rights of women to equality and respect. The signs are humiliating.”
“The signs create the expectation that they should be adhered to. They are likely to create the expectation or understanding that the area where the sign is placed belongs, in effect, to one specific population group in which its norms are applicable.”
“This expectation is likely in certain circumstances to encourage and assist the creation of a social atmosphere in which one could interpret the signs as obligating a person to obey them and even to bring about enforcement activities, sometimes through violence.”
The signs “bear an injurious and discriminatory message,” and “discriminate against women because they are women,” as well as cause “a severe injury to human dignity, equality and free choice and independence.”
This case asked the question, At what point does one group’s cultural norms encroach on the overall protection of civil rights for all of Israel’s citizens?
In a society as complex as Israel’s, this question is faced daily, whether in the public or religious sphere.
In its work throughout Israeli society, New Israel Fund of Canada supports the continued examination of this question. Our past projects have broadened the spectrum of equality to include the rights of historically marginalized communities, including women, newcomers, Arab-Israelis, and the LGBTQ community.
Like the victory for these women, NIFC has injected fresh perspective to issues accepted for so long in Israeli society as to assume the status of law. In the realm of religious pluralism, NIFC has offered:
- *Training to restaurant owners, rabbinical students, and food specialists on, What is Kosher?
- *Public education and widespread outreach on the options for Bat Mitzvahs to Jewish girls, a ritual not as widely celebrated in Israel as it is in North America
- *Conferences with secular and religious leaders on pluralist interpretations of ritual burials
- *Aid and education to couples seeking civil marriages as an alternative to state-recognized religious marriages
The famous line by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. quite fittingly encapsulates the balance sought by the women who challenged the signs on Jerusalem’s streets. Holmes said, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”
New Israel Fund of Canada applauds these brave women and others like them for their work on behalf of equality and democracy in Israel.
In a victory for religious freedom and women’s rights, Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) won a major victory last week against the Beit Shemesh municipality. Four Beit Shemesh modern Orthodox women – represented by IRAC – sued the municipality for not removing signs on buildings and billboards reading: “Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style.”
The court ruled that the municipal government was guilty of gross negligence in their failure to act against the illegal signs, awarded damages of NIS15,000 to each of the four women, and insisted that the city immediately remove the signs.
In his decision, Judge David Gidoni said: “These signs were intended to put constraints on women – and women alone – in the public sphere. They cause great harm to the basic right of women to equality and respect. Their presence is liable to create the impression that an area of the city belongs only to one specific population and that their social norms must be followed by everyone who lives there or passes through. That impression would be strengthened by signs that appear to be official.”
Ignoring the calls of the female plaintiffs “will imply that the sign represents the city’s opinion,” Gidoni said. “It will assist in the creation of a social atmosphere of obedience to the signs and encourage enforcement by the city’s residents, possibly even enforcement through violence.”
IRAC lawyer Orly Erez-Likhovski said the municipality declined to remove the signs of fear of violence and even riots. “Our argument in court on Sunday was that the signs contribute to the atmosphere of violence against women,” she said.
“We may have to go back to court to enforce their removal, but this is very important first step. It is the first legal case on modesty signs since the attorney general ruled they were illegal.”
A new training program for mikva (ritual bath) attendants in Israel is an important step forward for women’s rights. The new training program, which will be run by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, was agreed upon following a campaign by Advot (Ripples), a group of women’s rights activists.
Advot formed four years ago when NIFC-funded Shatil organized a group of women activists to discuss issues associated with Israel’s ritual baths, the female attendants who staff them, and the potential for change. The group is composed of religious women, the Jerusalem Rape Crisis Centre, and independent activists. Advot aims to increase women’s decision-making over mikva policies — which today are determined by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate — and to expand the role and raise the status of the attendants.
Since monthly mikva attendance is a common practice among Orthodox women, the 800 mikva attendants across the country are well-positioned to assist women who come to the mikva by, for instance, directing them to social services if they see signs of domestic violence. Generally, mikva attendants are the only people who see the bodies of ultra-Orthodox women other than their husbands and doctors. Advot wants to transform the mikva into a space in which trained attendants facilitate discussions with women on issues such as domestic violence and women’s health.
After a year of roundtable discussions, Advot established itself as an advocacy group and held a conference in 2012 to raise issues regarding the mikva, including: the dilapidated conditions of many mikvas throughout Israel; the often humiliating treatment women receive from attendants at the mikva; and the work conditions for attendants.
Advot’s work has made the problems of the mikva an issue that the government and the rabbinate take seriously.
“Now it’s an issue that people talk about, it’s no longer under the radar,” said Anat Yona, who works in Shatil’s religious pluralism section and consults to Advot.
Signs that the government has taken notice were demonstrated at an Advot conference, which featured MKs, and received a congratulatory video message from Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, deputy Religious Services Minister in the last goverment. Along with Jewish Home, members of the Yesh Atid party have also taken an interest in the mikva issue.
Following a series of meetings with the Ministry of Religious Services, the Ministry agreed to initiate the pilot training course to teach the attendants to identify potential problems in women’s lives and to provide both first-aid assistance and longer term support. If the pilot is successful, it will become part of the required training for all attendants. The program has the potential to transform Israel’s mikvas into safe spaces for women to discuss and deal with issues that affect them.
Roni Hazon Weiss has had a fascinating journey to become one of Jerusalem’s leading religious feminist activists. Born and raised in a modern Orthodox family in Maaleh Adumim, and active in Bnei Akiva, her first turning point came when she studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum, one of the pioneers of Talmud study for women.
After her army service in the Education and Youth Corps, she studied Democratic Education at the Kibbutzim College of Education. Roni was one of three religious people out of a total of 70 in the course. “It wasn’t what I was used to, but I wanted to experience studying in a non-religious environment. I had spent all my life in Jerusalem and wanted to learn somewhere else. It was a good decision.” As part of her studies, she took courses on religious feminism with the pioneering Orthodox feminist thinker Dr. Hannah Kehat, the founder and director of NIFC-funded Kolech (Kehat will be speaking in Canada this month. Learn more). “She spoke my language,” Roni reflects.
She wrote her final thesis on religious feminism, including Women of the Wall and “kosher” gender-segregated bus lines in Jerusalem. At the same time, she began getting involved with NIFC partner NGO Ne’emanei Torah V’Avoda (NTV), which aims to strengthen tolerance and openness in the education system and to develop a community based model which is inclusive and halachically tolerant. “I wanted an organization that had a broader agenda than just women’s issues.” She also began teaching at the Givat Gonen high school in Jerusalem. “It was the first time anyone had taught democratic education in a public school,” she explains.
Roni wrote many weekly opinion pieces and Torah commentaries for NTV, which were distributed in hundreds of synagogues around the country, and gradually became more involved in politics. She became involved with the Yerushalmit movement, where she focused on improving conditions for teachers. Then, two years ago, she was one of the leading activists in the campaign to bring back images of women to Jerusalem’s billboards. “The campaign began by hanging huge posters [of women] from the balconies of private homes, coffee shops, and culture institutions…The second stage was to place posters on billboards throughout Jerusalem. The advertising company…told us that we were crazy, that all our signs would be destroyed, that it would be a wasted effort. To my delight, they were wrong. Some posters were vandalized, but most were not.”
Roni plans to remain active in the movement. She is married and lives in Jerusalem, where she is active in HaKehil, an egalitarian synagogue, and has two children. “Jerusalem influences the entire country. The struggles that take place here – for better education, employment, and equality – can change the entire country. That’s why it’s important for me to be an activist here.” She wants to become a school principal, but her ambitions don’t stop there. “My dream is to be an Education Minister.” Given the progress she’s made so far in her short career, one wouldn’t bet against her doing just that!
Over the course of 2014, the activists we work with in Israel have called for a push for Jewish-Arab dialogue – meaningful, lasting, impactful, real. More than just discussions, the push has been to reconstruct the way people live their lives – where they live, who they go to school with, who they work with – to create a fully integrated Israel. This is the only way, our activists tell us, that shared understanding can be achieved.
Considering the heightened tensions in Israel, such a goal is both necessary and daunting. With vocal critics of “shared society”, as some of these initiatives are called, activists invested in co-existence – and those of us who support them – must also be brave.
New Israel Fund of Canada is working with SHATIL (“seedling” in Hebrew), its long-time partner in Israel, towards sustainable shared societies. SHATIL is the leading capacity-building organization in Israel’s voluntary NGO sector, helping to build the foundations of 1,400 charities annually that then work with specific communities all across Israel.
Over the past two years, NIFC has funded training for Jewish and Arab community leaders to develop cross-cultural partnerships on the block-to-block level.
Here is an update on the progress of this initiative:
A group of leaders from both Arab- and Jewish-Israeli communities were successfully recruited and began to meet together in February, 2014. The group met five times before the summer and prepared to meet back up again in September. Over the course of their interaction, a number of shared initiatives were proposed, such as:
- * cooperation between a kibbutz and a neighbouring Arab community;
- * a guidebook and set of guided tours highlighting less-developed Arab and Jewish communities that are off the beaten track and will benefit from tourism revenue; and
- * formally acknowledging restaurants and other businesses that are welcoming to both Arabs and Jews.
During the summer break between the two semesters, a painful period of violence engulfed Israel that began with the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers, followed by the murder of a Muslim teenager, and continued into a bloody 50-day war in Gaza. Group members stayed in close touch by phone and e-mail, recruiting each other to participate in joint Jewish-Arab activities such as a communal meal to break the fast for the coinciding Muslim and Jewish holidays of Ramadan and the 17th of Tammuz.
Even relations between Jewish and Arab-Israelis already working together toward Shared Society have become fraught. This increasingly charged the differing opinions and opposing views of what is a Shared Society, of how to address imbalances of power, or of how to balance justice for the majority and minorities in Israel. Despite the tension, the participants recognize that especially under these circumstances, their joint dialogue and activities are of even greater value and preserving them is of the utmost importance.
This is what is most critical:
Meetings between the leaders from both groups create opportunities for dialogue that cannot take place among the general Israeli public, allowing them to share and clarify their challenges and feelings of distress. These meetings provide a unique space in which to identify shared values that transcend national identities.
While it is clear that this course has already made a mark on the individual participants, the full impact of the course will become evident in the long term as the participants implement their projects. Hamutal Elbaz, a Bible and history teacher from Jerusalem described what she learned:
“I always took the importance of my Jewish identity and the Jewish identity of the State for granted,” she says. “When I heard the legitimacy of these things questioned by other group members, I said, ‘This is not something I can compromise on.’ It strengthened my own sense of identity and simultaneously sharpened the self-definition of the Palestinians in my mind. I realized that if I didn’t want them to question my self-definition, who was I to question theirs? The questioning made me understand what an important place my identity and the Jewish identity of the State had in my life and that I wasn’t prepared to give up on them. And then I better understood the same thing about them.”
Last week, Israel was abuzz when Channel 2 News revealed that Housing Minister Uri Ariel sold state property designated for public housing to religious institutions affiliated with his Jewish Home political party at discount prices. Such a move, at a time when hundreds of underprivileged families are in desperate need of housing solutions, is another indication of the government’s lack of regard for Israel’s poorest citizens.
Following the exposé, the SHATIL coordinated Forum for Public Housing successfully petitioned the Attorney General to open a criminal investigation of these allegations. Yesterday, Israel’s Attorney General froze the deal.
Additionally, the Forum recently facilitated the first-reading adoption of two bills ensuring transparency of decisions on public housing and provision of funding for alternative housing solutions for public housing candidates. They will continue their work safeguarding the right to affordable housing in the future.
Thanks to a SHATIL-coordinated effort along with the Direct Employment Coalition, Knesset cafeteria workers no longer need to worry about layoffs during the recess and election.
SHATIL’s team helped persuade the Knesset to announce that it would enforce a clause providing additional compensation to the cafeteria operator for not laying off workers during Knesset recesses; and that consequently, there are no plans to terminate employment of any current cafeteria workers during the run up to the election. Additionally, the Coalition recently held a conference bringing together subcontracted workers unions to mutually promote their goals.
The violence and incitement of the summer spurred many individuals and organizations in Israel to intensify their work to combat racism and to promote a shared society. Two SHATIL-produced events this month showed the progress being made:
Shared and Safe Public Spaces: Activists gathered in Haifa in early December to discuss how political leaders, the media, and grassroots organizations can help create a public space in Israel that feels safe for Arabs and Jews alike even in times of conflict. Speakers included Talia Sasson, incoming president of the New Israel Fund; MK Afu Aghbaria (Hadash); and Eileen Lavery, head of strategic enforcement at the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
The atmosphere was charged as participants recounted the attacks on anti-war demonstrations last summer and the recent arson that occurred at Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand bilingual school. Aida Touma-Sliman, director Women against Violence, said it was essential for Jews and Arabs to condemn racists. “We do not hear the voice of civil society in real time,” she said.
Israel Radio correspondent Eran Zinger said the role of the media is to increase awareness about the complexity of the situation, which helps to break down stereotypes. Eitan Lederer, a representative for the Ministry of Justice, spoke about an initiative to lower the standard of evidence required to indict someone for incitement to racism.
The conference is a part of NIFC-funded SHATIL’s shared society program and was produced with the support of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the Fohs Foundation and the New Israel Fund, and in partnership with many grantees, including Sikkuy, the Coalition against Racism, Itach/Ma’ki, and others.
A Discourse with the Other: On December 14th, SHATIL held the conference “A discourse with the other” focusing on intercultural education in Jerusalem.
The conference was held in partnership with the Jerusalem Education Authority and in cooperation with the Jerusalem Foundation, Teacher’s Union, Midreshet Adam, Center for Youth Activism, the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, and other organizations. More than 100 people attended the conference, many of them teachers, education officials and administrators, and local officials. Attendees came from both the Western and Eastern parts of Jerusalem.
The conference began with participants presenting their innovative work to conference attendees. SHATIL Executive Director Ronit Heyd, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria, and Udi Spiegel from the Jerusalem Foundation gave the opening addresses.
Participants divided into discussion groups relating to coping with issues of education, politics, and racism in the classroom. The conference concluded with an address by the co-directors of Jerusalem’s bilingual school.
The conference was the result of months of work with the Jerusalem Education Authority and other organizations; SHATIL intends to continue its work in Jerusalem, and will assess its significance in light of broader efforts focusing on racism and shared society in the education system on the national level.
More than a year of hard work came to fruition on the eve of the New Year when the Negev Council gathered for its inaugural meeting. The Council brings together the Negev’s diverse political, public, and business leadership in one official body. SHATIL’s Be’er Sheva staff was integral in launching this important initiative by facilitating cooperation between representatives of the region’s multicultural and often disparate populations. Participants in the meeting included prominent local officials such as Be’er Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich and Bnei Shimon Regional Council Head Sigal Moran, both of whom addressed the session. All participants agreed that to guarantee a better future for the Negev they must begin working together to address mutual interests.
It’s been an eventful and difficult time in Israel. We’re all watching the news, reading analyses and trying our best to understand the current moment and how Israel will move forward.
Here, across the ocean, we can sometimes feel like our wishes for Israel go unheard. Some tell us that it isn’t our business- Israelis will make choices for themselves, whether we like those choices or not.
For Canadians, times likes these beg the question, “Can I even make a difference?”
The answer, in short, is yes. That’s what Israelis tell us.
2014 saw NIFC at its most responsive. We mobilized in Israel and we mobilized here in Canada. This year, over 2100 people attended our events across the country. With lectures, film screenings, gatherings and intimate meetings, we came together to hear first-hand from our passionate partners in Israel.
I’ve previously described our emergency funding during the Gaza War. In looking back over this entire year, I want to tell you about another initiative that is making a difference right now.
This year, we became partners with Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodah (NTV), an NGO made up of Orthodox leaders who understand that the Israeli religious community is sliding toward more fundamentalist ideals. NTV knows that these Israelis have been exposed exclusively to education in gender-segregated and insular schools. With environments like these that are shifting rightward, there’s a sharp rise in fundamentalist attitudes toward women and minorities.
NTV addresses this concern by educating the religious community in Israel about democracy, social involvement and tolerance. With activities on campuses, in high schools, and in training youth educators, nearly every day there is an NTV program dedicated to youth. Thousands of people benefit from their programs each year, which serve to strengthen the dual values of Torah and Avoda (work) and cultivate a National Religious society that is open, engaged, and educated.
NTV is meeting its challenges head-on: NTV is also part of the Tag Meir coalition, a group that demonstrates solidarity and equality after violent or destructive acts against minorities in Israel (see below).
This kind of work is successful because these solutions come from Israelis for Israelis. They are the ones who come to us, year after year, and tell us what they need to thrive.
Maybe you think you can’t make a difference in Israel. But you can. Israelis think so, and they’re asking for your partnership right now.
By supporting NIFC, you’re joining in the effort to make change happen. When you provide for those Israelis, you make this a reality.
As 2014 comes to a close, I want to thank you on behalf of our board, staff and colleagues in Israel for your support of New Israel Fund of Canada.
“There are eight rungs in charity. The highest is when you help a man to help himself.” Maimonides
The NIF-convened Tag Meir coalition responded quickly to last Saturday’s terrible arson attack on the Jewish-Arab Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem. In addition to the arson, the perpetrators daubed anti-Arab graffiti including “Death to Arabs”, “Kahane was right,” and “down with assimilation”. There were no injuries, but serious damage was caused to one of the classrooms.
The following morning, Tag Meir organized a solidarity visit attended by hundreds of people. Speakers included MKs Erel Margalit (Labor), Nachman Shai (Labor), Rabbi Benny Lau, Rachel Azaria from the Jerusalem Council, and members of the school’s parents’ committee.
The attack was widely condemned across the political spectrum, with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni visiting the site and Education Minister Shai Piron calling it a “violent, criminal and despicable act done to undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy.” NIF also supported a large solidarity event being organized by the school, which was attended by pupils from all five Hand-in-Hand schools around the country.
The day after the attack on the Jerusalem school, vandals left burnt books outside a Tel Aviv synagogue alongside graffiti reading: “In a place where the Jewish state bill will be legislated, books will be burned.” Tag Meir organized another solidarity vigil, which was also attended by local worshippers and schoolchildren. Rabbi David Stav, founder and chairman of Tzohar, with which the synagogue is affiliated, said: “We are all entitled to hold different opinions on the challenges facing our society, but anyone who resorts to violence of this nature, and in particular anyone who targets a holy sanctuary, deserves to be condemned in the harshest language.”
Finally, last week, Tag Meir organized a shiva call to the families who were left bereaved following the Har Nof terror attack. Members of the joint Jewish-Arab delegation included Sheikh Abdullah Badir from Kfar Qassem, Ibrahim Muasi, the Deputy Mayor of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, community rabbis from Jerusalem, and students from the Shalom Hartman Institute. “We are all children of Abraham,” said Sheikh Badir to the mourners. Another delegation of Tag Meir visited the family of the murdered Druze police officer Zidan Sayif.
More than 500 Israeli women, politicians, CEOs, media personalities, and others, gathered for a November 10th conference on gender wage gaps and career advancement.
The Conference was organized by the Equal Pay Project – an initiative of SHATIL, the Israel Women’s Network, the Adva Center, and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission –which works to address the persisting wage gaps in Israeli society. Comparable to the US, Israeli women only earn 66% of their male counterparts’ wages for equal work. The Project leads advocacy efforts to promote and enforce legislation as well as actions to increase employers’ awareness and understanding of the problem, including practical steps they can take to reduce gaps in their organizations.
The conference, a first time partnership with business daily The Marker’s Online web portal, brought a new kind of audience to the Project’s work.
The day included both practical advice and guidance to individual working women — including when and how to request a salary increase, and how a manager can act to reduce wage gaps in an organization – as well as discussion on needed changes in legislation, social norms, and more.
During the day, SHATIL’s Yael Wolfenson presented the Equal Pay Calculator, an innovative tool to encourage and enable employers to identify and address gendered pay gaps.
“Equalizing wages for women is a strategic goal for Israel’s economy, as well as a first-class social value,” said Tamar Adelstein Zekbach, director of the Equal Pay project. “We appreciate the amazing response of leading women taking part in this important conference as speakers and participants, and are here to assist all those who have already internalized the need for change to do so”.
“Should I buy my daughter rain boots for the winter or pay my rent?”
This is the heart-rending question asked by 27-year-old Racheli, a single mother and supermarket teller Racheli earns NIS 4,000 (about $1000) a month but has basic expenses of NIS 6,000.
Her article, part of a series published by YNet for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, has garnered hundreds of comments. Both the series of articles and the annual Knesset day, marked on November 19th, were the initiatives of NIFC-funded SHATIL and the Rabbis for Human Rights-led Forum against Poverty, a group of 15 civil society organizations.
“The government’s current policy makes it hard for even working people to support ourselves and our families,” Racheli writes. “Government policy that will allow me and many others to escape the cycle of poverty includes raising the minimum wage and the amount of money that can be earned without harming government benefits needed for the basics, lowering the value added tax, and childcare for children during holidays so parents can go to their jobs.”
While all eyes are turned to the violence on the streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country, the 1,755,000 (20% of the population) Israelis who live below the poverty line are, like Racheli, still having trouble filling their shopping carts. The Forum Against Poverty is working on a number of fronts to persuade the government to implement the recommendations of its own Alaluf Committee to Fight Poverty in Israel. The Forum’s multi-year efforts were instrumental in the formation of the Committee.
Two weeks ago, a standing-room-only crowd, including many MKs and people living in poverty, demanded concrete government action to reduce poverty at the Knesset Conference on Poverty Wednesday.
Tzafra Dweck, chair of the Israeli Association of Social Workers and a member of the government-appointed Alalouf Committee to Fight Poverty in Israel, warned that Committee members were prepared to take to the streets if the government did not budget for the Committee’s recommendations, which were the minimum needed to combat poverty. And Shas leader Aryeh Deri said that his party was already introducing the Alalouf Committee recommendations as Knesset bills so they would have the power of law
“Israel has no serious, comprehensive anti-poverty policy,” said SHATIL policy change expert Giyora Wahle. “It’s time to act seriously to eradicate this scourge. The government has the means to do so. It just needs the will.”
Forum members have worked tirelessly in the past months, meeting with Knesset members and other government officials, analyzing the state budget, creating email and social media campaigns, organizing demonstrations to press for government action, and planning for the day in the Knesset.
The Knesset day included substantive committee meetings and was led by MKs Haim Katz (Likud), Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and Orly Levi-Abekasis (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu).
In September, Israel’s Supreme Court invalidated the arbitrary imprisonment of African asylum seekers, a major victory for human rights. Unfortunately, politicians continue to evade Israel’s responsibility to refugees, having devised additional legislation to detain and incarcerate them. The latest version of the anti-infiltration law, passed on Monday as a last action before the Knesset dissolved, allows new asylum seekers to be incarcerated at Saharonim Prison for three months immediately after they enter the country, down from one year in the previous version. Thereafter, they can be sent to Holot for a maximum of 20 months, as can asylum seekers who were already in Israel prior to the law’s passage. The previous law allowed asylum seekers to be held at Holot indefinitely.
Elizbaeth Tsurkov, Projects’ Director at Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said: “The High Court of Justice and the State Comptroller have made it clear again and again that detention is not a solution for those who cannot safely return to their homeland. Despite this, the government insists on repeating past mistakes, and presented legislation already ruled illegal by the High Court, the stated goal of which is to pressure asylum-seekers into returning to places where their lives and liberty will be in danger. It is a shame that the new Minister of Interior is maintaining the failed policies of past ministers and did not use the opportunity to examine a real solution: investing the money allocated for detention of refugees in improving the infrastructure and services in southern Tel Aviv, naturally decreasing the concentration of asylum-seekers in the area by granting them work visas and incentivizing employers across Israel to hire asylum-seekers.”
It’s been a hard month for Israelis and for those who support Israel. Tensions have risen since this summer’s conflict and continue to impact Israelis in their daily lives, allowing for feelings like despair and fear to creep in.
Inspired by our colleagues in Israel, it’s hope and dedication that move us at New Israel Fund of Canada. Through these conflicts, our greatest successes are reaching Israelis who want to live better, more sustainable lives with each other even when that seems risky.
This week in Toronto and Ottawa, we had the pleasure of meeting and hearing from exemplary activists, including leadership from SHATIL and AJEEC (more on them below) as well as Rania Okby, the world’s first female Bedouin physician.
Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Amal Elsana Alh’jooj spoke to packed rooms about her journey from Israel’s Negev Bedouin community leader to world-renowned human rights and shared society activist.
On the train from Ottawa to Toronto, Amal relayed a story to me that I must share with you here:
In 1997, Amal was studying at Ben Gurion University, the first female Bedouin student there. In her community, there was a common sentiment that Jewish Israelis were adversaries and not allies.
She was asked to show an NIF tour group around her village. It was then that she met a professor who offered to bring her to McGill University in Montreal to do her Master’s of Social Work.
Indeed, Amal did come to Montreal. Once there, she focused on her studies exclusively and rarely went outside of campus.
For her social work placement, Amal was assigned to a place too far away to walk to. Getting there would be her first time on a public bus in Montreal. She was very nervous, her knowledge of the city virtually non-existent.
On the bus, she inquired of the bus driver, in English, whether she was going the right way and where she should get off. He replied, “Only French.” Amal was frightened and upset that she would not get to where she needed because she could not speak French and the driver wouldn’t speak English.
From the back of the bus, she heard a mother speak to her son in Hebrew. Amal, desperate for help, asked the Jewish woman if she could help her.
The woman and her son brought Amal to her placement. They stayed there and waited for her during her consultation. Then they brought her all the way home. No questions asked.
Back at home, Amal burst into tears.
She had flown 13 hours on a plane to realize that she’d had it all wrong. With that authentic interaction, she understood that Jews were not her enemy. She just needed the opportunity to see, hear and feel it.
It was from this interaction that Amal was compelled to start AJEEC, The Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation at the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development. AJEEC, a partner of NIFC, is at the forefront of change in the Negev, promoting health, economic equality, shared society and education in Israel’s Negev. It is led by two co-executive directors, one Arab and one Jewish.
Without authentic opportunities from NGOs like AJEEC and SHATIL, Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis would not have the chance to meet on a level playing field where they pursue common goals for a common future.
This is why New Israel Fund of Canada has backed these grassroots, community-based projects for almost 30 years. Without this support, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see that, truly, we are stronger together.
In a success for religious freedom in Israel, a new conversion process passed a cabinet vote this week. The change will allow municipal rabbis to set up special conversion courts, thus dramatically increasing the number of rabbis who can perform conversions. Unfortunately, the new process doesn’t allow for the recognition of Reform or Conservative conversions – a key demand pressed by NIF-backed organizations.
Currently only 33 rabbis employed by the Religious Affairs Ministry can perform official conversions. Meanwhile, over 330,000 immigrants (and their children) – 8% of Israel’s Jewish population – who made Aliya as Jews under the Law of Return are not Jewish according to Orthodox law, which means they can’t marry in Israel or be buried in the regular section of Jewish cemeteries.
Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), said: “Although this decision does not directly affect Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel, any measure to change the status quo of religion and state in Israel is a positive advancement towards religious pluralism. The State of Israel took a small step forward on a long road ahead.”
The Reform Movement in Israel also worked with the Attorney General, who helped make sure that the change in procedure would not negatively affect non-Orthodox conversions, including ongoing legal cases being fought by IRAC.
Similarly, Yizhar Hess, Director of the Masorti Movement, responded: “We welcome the government decision on the conversion issue. While it doesn’t touch directly or indirectly on non-Orthodox conversions, this is a type of democratization of the official, corrupt rabbinate, and this is a small but meaningful step towards a gradual breakup of the Orthodox establishment.”
Around 1,800 people converted in 2013 through Israel’s conversion courts, while at least 7,000 Jews who are not recognized as such by the state join Israeli society each year.
This cabinet decision was proposed as an alternative to a more forward-looking bill put forward by MK Elazar Stern (HaTnua), which would have recognized conversions by the Conservative and Reform movement, and eliminated the requirement that the chief rabbi approve conversions performed by municipal rabbis.
An Israeli district court has ruled that a woman who was fired from her cleaning job the day after she informed her employers she was pregnant should receive NIS 45,000 in compensation. She fought her case with the help of NIF grantee Tebeka, which works for justice and equality for Ethiopian Israelis.
Tebeka’s Executive Director, Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, said: “This case is representative of the abuse by managers towards underprivileged populations, and particularly towards Ethiopian Israelis. I am happy that the woman stood up for her rights and didn’t’ give up. Tebeka will continue to support the Ethiopian community against discrimination, and will strive for the establishment of a more tolerant and equal society in Israel.”
Earlier this year, Tebeka also succeeded in winning compensation on behalf of two Ethiopian Israeli women who were barred from entering a nightclub because of the color of their skin.
Sometimes no news is good news.
Last Saturday marked the one day in 30 years when Yom Kippur and the sacred Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid Al Adha) occur on the same day. Especially in the wake of the war over the summer, the potential for racism-fueled clashes concerned residents of Arab-Jewish cities like Haifa. NIFC-funded SHATIL and New Israel Fund launched a number of initiatives confronting the issue head on. I’m thrilled to report that what we hoped for became a reality: Nothing Happened.
Eid Al Adha, the Muslim “Holiday of the Sacrifice” celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son according to God’s order. The recounting of Abraham’s ascent with his son is also prevalent leading up to Yom Kippur.
Yet, the two holidays are observed in dramatically different ways. Muslims celebrate Eid Al Adha by slaughtering sheep, giving to the poor, and holding a family feast. The customs of the holiday also include buying new clothes and toys for children, praying at the mosque early in the morning, and traveling to cemeteries to visit deceased relatives.
Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement”, is a day of reflection, fasting, and, even among secular cities across Israel, the only day in which cars stay off the roads.
In preparation for October 4th, we help to fund campaigns centering on Public Education, Citizen Leadership, and Violence Prevention. Here are some example within each pillar of our approach:
*School principals address their students about the sensitivities in school-wide forums
*Newspapers and other media sources were provided with anti-racism campaign materials to disseminate and publicize
*Ads were placed across news media with the title, “Pay Respect, Behave with Tolerance.”
*Mayors and police chiefs of towns attended and spoke at anti-racism rallies organized by NIFC-funded organizations.
*SHATIL brought together city leaders with both Jewish and Muslim religious leaders to coordinate on a game plan for the days leading up to October 4th.
*Police escorted Muslims to visit their cemeteries and avoided a procession of cars to enter Jewish areas of the city to prevent interpretations of provocation.
*New Israel Fund organized an anti-racism event connected to the start of the soccer season in a mixed Arab-Jewish city on Israel’s coast in which soccer players public denounced racist behaviour at their games.
One of the organizers of these efforts put the situation in perspective. “…We realized that conflicts are an inevitable part of life in [mixed] cities, but that escalation and violence are not.”
New Israel Fund of Canada is proud to contribute to grassroots efforts like these to respond to situations that have potential to ignite racism. We are equally proud that, rather than serving as a symbol of post-war tension, last Saturday instead highlights the possibility for peace within Israel’s borders through our work.
In a major victory for human rights, Israel’s High Court of Justice has ordered the government to close the Holot Detention Camp, where African refugees have been incarcerated for many months, within the next 90 days. The nine-judge panel voted seven to two to shut down the facility, which houses over 2,000 asylum seekers mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who cannot safely return to their homelands. The High Court also abrogated the law requiring a one-year prison sentence for asylum seekers who arrived in Israel after December 2013.
The petition to close down the detention camp was filed by a coalition of human rights organizations in the NIF family including the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers in Israel, Kav LaOved Workers’ Hotline, Assaf – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights.
ACRI Attorney Oded Feller said, “The fact that the Knesset and the government continue to single out a powerless and disadvantaged group as a scapegoat, blame it for society’s problems, vilify it, and beat its members down over and over with unconstitutional legislation requires the Court to intervene.”
Muatsim Ali, an asylum seeker and refugee protest leader from Darfur, Sudan said, “This is the choice the government grants us: live out our lives in the desert with a roof over our heads, with water and bread – but without the possibility of leaving, of working, of living like human beings. The government asks us to be animals, to be satisfied with protection and basic food needs. Our other choice is to leave Israel for an unknown fate, to return to the countries from which we fled, to regimes that persecuted us and will continue to persecute us.”
In handing down the ruling Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman said, “The heart understands the difficulties, but the mind cannot accept the chosen solution.”
At this writing, right-wing members of Knesset are looking at new options to restrict the 60,000 or so asylum-seekers currently in Israel while meeting constitutional standards.
Palestinian Israelis whose property has been damaged in a “Price Tag” hate crime will now be entitled to compensation under the Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law 1961. (“Price-tag” is the name given to vigilante actions by radical settlers against Arabs, leftists and even the army to exact a cost for the closure of illegal outposts or other actions found politically objectionable.) Until now, victims were not compensated because “Price Tag” attacks were deemed racist attacks rather than terrorist actions by government officials.
In February, NIF grantee The Coalition Against Racism in Israel (CAR) wrote to Finance Minister Yair Lapid on the matter. After talks between CAR and Treasury officials, Lapid agreed to broaden the scope of the Law to encompass compensation for victims of Price Tag attacks. The new regulations have now been approved by the Knesset Finance Committee.
CAR Director Nidal Othman said, “We welcome the new regulations and will monitor their application. This is an important change because an enlightened country cannot discriminate through legislation between citizens regarding their security and the safety of their property. We will continue our activities and demand that Price Tag assailants are proclaimed terrorists.”
Three new initiatives will help to span the divides in healthcare between Israel’s center and Northern periphery. A new pilot program will help enable people coping with a mental health emergency to recover in the community rather than in a psychiatric hospital. A newly-opened rehab center in the North will help reduce the shortage of such facilities in the Galilee. And women in disadvantaged Northern communities will now receive lactation support to help them breastfeed their infants.
These – and more – initiatives are the result of two SHATIL courses that trained Galilee residents to become agents of change for greater health equity.
The year-long program in the Western Galilee just graduated its second cohort, adding 50 doctors, nurses, physical therapists, psychologists, academics, social activists, lawyers, and others to the cadre of 30 change makers who graduated from last year’s pilot course. Together, they now compose the Northern Health Equity Leadership Network, which is working to bridge the unconscionable gaps in healthcare between the north and center of the country. At the end of 2015, they will be joined by a third group that will be trained in the majority-Arab city of Nazareth.
“When citizens promote programs for bridging gaps and don’t settle for complaining about the ineffectiveness of the authorities, life in Israel looks different,” said Professor Michael Weingarten, M.D., Associate Dean of Bar Ilan University’s Galilee Medical Faculty and a pilot program participant.
Studies show that the number of doctors, nurses and hospital beds, the accessibility of treatment, and even life expectancy is significantly lower in the north than in the center of the country. This project aims to narrow those alarming gaps.
In addition to learning about the gaps in healthcare and the health and medical challenges facing northern residents, the high caliber trainees – both Arab and Jewish – use the resources of the course and the sponsoring organizations to initiate projects that respond to specific issues. In addition to those mentioned above, projects in the works include a women’s health center, a smoking cessation program aimed at Arab youth, a health education program in the schools, and an initiative to determine clear criteria for the provision and location of health services. Each project receives intensive guidance from SHATIL and partner organizations’ experts.
Among the many partners in this program are the NIFC-funded Association for Civil Rights in Israel, JDC-ELKA, the Galilee branch of the Ministry of Health, the Galilee Society, Western Galilee Academic College, the Russell Berrie Foundation, The Fine Foundation, AS Securities, and more.
Since our last newsletter was published, NIFC suffered a major loss in the passing of Shira Herzog. Shira was a steadfast supporter of equality and democracy in Israel. She contributed first-hand insight into issues critical to Israel. And, through her work as Executive Director of the Kahanoff Foundation, vital financial support was secured for addressing them. New Israel Fund of Canada was a grateful recipient of support from both the Kahanoff Foundation and the personal commitment of Shira.
Over the past weeks, a number of meaningful testimonials have been shared describing Shira’s lifetime commitment towards an ever-stronger civil society in Israel. We have collected some of those tributes from across the globe on our website (www.nifcan.org/the-shira-herzog-tribute). For New Israel Fund of Canada, Shira’s contribution manifested itself in innovative, bold, and forward-thinking projects.
I want to share with you three concrete and specific examples of Shira’s contribution:
Community Leadership Among Marginalized Groups – As demographic trends change the face of Israel, discourse is critical across outlying communities to ensure an integrated society in the future. New Israel Fund of Canada through the Kahanoff Foundation is funding active working groups across marginalized communities in Israel. Among this is the Meoravot Working Group for Haredi women. First-hand, these women describe the conditions within their community and what issues are urgent to address right now. Entry into these communities is a long-term investment and NIFC is committed to building trust through these efforts.
Integrating Mizrachi Voices – Israel’s Mizrachi community (Jews who trace their history to Muslim-majority countries) have felt increasingly isolated from social justice initiatives. Both politically and culturally, a far more conservative movement offers the only viable option for this segment of the population. NIFC through the Kahanoff Foundation is working to integrate Mizrachi voices, leadership, and culture into the mainstream. In the long-run, this integration can lead to broader collaborations and more pluralistic Israeli communities.
Leadership for a Shared Society – The fate of Arab-Palestinian citizens – representing 20% of the Israeli population – is inextricably tied to the strength of Israeli society as a whole. As such, addressing issues of housing, employment, health, and education is critical. Through the Kahanoff Foundation, NIFC has brought together leadership among both Jewish- and Arab-Israelis to face these issues together. The principle of shared responsibility to address these issues is just as vital for Israeli society as the initiatives themselves.
These initiatives are among those for which Shira, through her advice and expertise, provided indispensable guidance.
Shira was a true leader in Israeli civil society and left her stamp on every arena and organization with which she was involved. In service to a country she loved, Shira contributed masterful communication, innovative philanthropy, bridge-building and collaborations, and the foresight to identify long-term solutions when understanding of societal problems was still in its infancy.
The New Israel Fund of Canada will continue to honour Shira’s legacy in the work we do. Shira’s legacy is manifest not only by the development of a broad civil society but also by the increasing commitment of the Canadian Jewish community to supporting equality and democracy in Israel.
The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) is calling on Israel’s Attorney General to investigate incitement by the Lehava organization. Lehava, whose primary objective is opposing relationships between Jewish women and non-Jewish men, dominated the Israeli headlines last month after it organized a noisy protest outside the wedding of Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka in in Jaffa. Participants at the protest carried signs saying “Daughter of Israel to the people of Israel” and “Assimilation is a Holocaust.”
In the build-up to this demonstration, President Reuven Rivlin issued a statement saying: “Mahmoud and Morel from Jaffa have decided to marry and to exercise their freedom in a democratic country. The manifestations of incitement against them are infuriating and distressing, whatever my opinion or anyone else’s might be regarding the issue itself.”
Ironically for Lehava’s “anti-miscegenation” campaign, Morel was no longer Jewish at the time of her marriage; she had formally converted to Islam.
IRAC’s call to the Attorney General is part of the work of the NIF-supported Coalition Against Racism, which has cited five incidents of incitement by the group. Lehava’s deplorable message that Arabs are the enemies of Israel, and that contact with them will lead to disaster and the kidnapping of Jewish girls to Arab villages, hinders efforts to build a shared society. Posters, media campaigns and social media threatening Arab men who approach Jewish women are standard operating practice for Lehava, as are messages to Jewish women themselves instructing them to stay clear of Arab men.
Adv. Nidal Othman, Director of the Coalition against Racism in Israel, said: “For four years, IRAC has approached the Attorney General regarding Lehava, but nothing has been done…The authorities’ failure to take active steps…constitutes silent acquiescence…to the phenomena of incitement and violence.”
Before recessing for the summer, the Knesset passed a law that erases years of discrimination against women. The Law for the Division of Pension Savings of Separated Couples ensures that a divorced woman whose former spouse had died would be entitled to her share of his pension. Until now, when said spouse died, the former spouse’s share of the pension was erased, despite the fact that no one argued that she deserved her share.
This law was tirelessly promoted for 15 years by Dr. Tikva Reger, director of the NGO Granit – Aid to Women Before, during and after Divorce Proceedings, which received several NIF grants during this time. Credit also goes to Na’amat’s legal department for help with this campaign.
“The passage of this law rights an outrageous injustice,” said SHATIL lobby expert Shmulik David, who helped guide Granit in this process. “Many of these women did not work, or worked only part time and therefore earned a small pension because they were raising the couple’s children and running their household, thus enabling their spouse to work and earn a living.”
Among the MKs who helped bring the law to fruition were Zehava Galon, Merav Michaeli and Yakov Margi.
Shared living in Haifa received a boost last month when nearly 200 Arabs and Jews gathered for an emergency conference, Haifa against Violence and Racism, organized by civil society activists and organizations. The organizers had expected 50 participants. Hundreds more had expressed interest in attending, reflecting the concern among Israelis about the Gaza war’s effect on Arab-Jewish relations.
The conference was not a gathering to hear speeches, but rather one to discuss and offer concrete proposals for actions to ease tensions and promote shared living. Nine round tables were led by Arab and Jewish co-facilitators.
Despite the trauma experienced by demonstrators who were attacked by right wing hooligans on July 19th and the despair expressed by some Arab participants, there was much positive energy. People expressed a renewed commitment to work for change.
“A very clear voice arose at the conference saying that at a time like this, slogans about Haifa as a model for co-existence are not enough,” said Rolly Rosen, coordinator of NIFC-supported Shatil’s Haifa as a Shared City project. “We need determined action, commitment on the part of the Municipality, the allocation of resources for strengthening Arab-Jewish ties in the city and steps to ensure the personal and business safety of all the city’s residents.”
Haifa – Between Reality and a Vision for a Shared City, a 500-page book that NIFC helped SHATIL publish in 2012, was quoted extensively at the conference, which was hosted by Haifa’s Leo Baeck Community Center.
Among the directions for future action: actions to oppose the boycott of Arab businesses (with the support of Mayor Yona Yahav;) fighting racism on social networks; and working with school children to promote tolerance. The organizers also called upon the municipality to set up a unique municipal commission whose goal would be promoting a shared city in Haifa and ensuring all residents enjoy equal rights.
Conference organizers – Yad b’Yad for Bilingual Education, Woman to Woman, Shutafut-Sharaka, the Leo Baeck Community Center, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Mossawa Center and SHATIL – are working to organize similar events around the country.
In peaceful times, NIFC is proud to fund projects in Israel with a focus towards long-term and systemic progress in Israel. We’ve seen the impact of this focus over the three decades of work in Israel. Over the past months, however, the need for immediate help has taken on great urgency.
And, NIFC has responded. Along with our partner, New Israel Fund, we have funded emergency projects where need is greatest.
Immediate circumstances have led us to the guiding questions behind our response:
– Underprivileged Israeli citizens have been living in areas without alarm sirens, bomb shelters, or trauma assistance during the fighting. We have asked, How can NIFC help Israeli citizens under threat of rocket attacks?
– Many of the grassroots organizations we fund are very small and cannot spare extra resources. Yet, their staff has been working overtime – sometimes seven days a week – to respond to immediate needs. How can NIFC help our partner Israeli charities respond to an onslaught of community needs?
– During this period of conflict, free speech and civil rights have been curbed inside Israel. Violence among citizens has flared up along with racist discourse. How can NIFC continue to promote equality and democracy in Israel?
Here are some examples of the projects funded:
* Round-the-clock staff and security at Be’er Sheva bomb shelters
* An Israeli Russian-language website to confront extreme and racist discourse in Israel
* Equipment and volunteers to work with children in bomb shelters
* Food packages to disadvantaged Israelis left without the ability to work during the crisis
* Anti-racism materials in public schools printed in both Arabic and Hebrew
* Staffing at a local rape crisis center to respond to the increased reports of sexual violence during wartime
* Opportunities for respite from wartime violence among children with special needs and their families
You’ll see from the articles in this month’s newsletter the societal effects of the war and the far-reaching impact the war has had in arenas across Israeli life. We are grateful to the organizations with whom we have worked for thirty years for their bravery and courage in addressing some of the toughest issues for Israeli society in the midst of this crisis.
I am also thankful to so many of you who continue to make special contributions to NIFC during this time. In launching emergency projects, we have seen our role, in part, as the agent connecting our donors’ support with the grassroots network we work so closely with in Israel.
Thank you once again for your continued partnership,
Since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, dozens of Palestinian Israelis have been fired from their jobs for expressing their opposition to the war on social networks. We spoke to Gadeer Nicola, a lawyer and coordinator of the Nazareth branch of NIF partner Workers Hotline, to hear about the efforts to fight back and promote freedom of expression.
How big a problem is this?
“We’ve been approached by dozens of Palestinian Israeli workers who have been fired because of things they’ve said on social networks, mainly Facebook. There are more every day. The problem has even extended to Arab students at academic institutions. At least 25 Facebook pages have been set up with names like “Not in our Schools” and “Exposing the Traitors” where people copy statuses of Palestinian Israelis alongside their photos and places of work, requesting that the general public call on their employers to fire them. Otherwise they threaten a boycott of their employers. Most of the cases we know about are a result of this pressure; in other cases Israeli Jews have read statuses of colleagues and then demanded their termination.”
What kind of things did people post?
“Anything that doesn’t fall within the consensus is seen as a reason for firing. For example, there were some people saying that the IDF is committing war crimes, or posted pictures of dead Palestinian children, or people who took pictures of themselves with Palestinian flags at demonstrations. And there were some that were more extreme. They are seen as traitors because they are against the war. Employers have started issuing instructions that employees are banned from posting about the war on social networks (which is itself an infringement of freedom of expression), but it’s clear that this is being applied selectively…we haven’t heard of a single case in which a Jewish worker was fired for saying “Death to Arabs” or something like that, even though we know of many people who have done so.”
Is this legal?
“Definitely not. The right to freedom of expression is fundamental. If there’s incitement, the police can get involved, but the law doesn’t allow an employer to punish workers for things they say outside of the workplace. Also – there’s been no warning at all, even for people who put up a post and then took it down because they regretted it. They were fired straight away. And there have been physical threats. The details on the Facebook pages often include phone numbers, and sometimes the employers made the workers stay at home because they said they couldn’t protect them. The government hasn’t issued a response, and no guidelines have been sent out to employers. The Employment (Equal Opportunities) Law clearly forbids firing workers because of their political opinions. At the moment this clause is being broken repeatedly.”
What is the Workers’ Hotline doing in response?
“We’re giving legal advice and representation to fired workers. We’ve also written a position paper (with NIF partners Adalah and Mossawa) explaining workers’ rights in cases like this. It has received more than 250 shares on Facebook so far, which shows how extensive the problem is. We expect that the first case will reach court in the coming days, and more will follow after that.”
Do you have a final message that you want to share?
“We need to guarantee freedom of expression. It’s the most basic right citizens have in a democratic state. Employers shouldn’t be able to punish workers because of their political views, as clearly spelled out by Israeli law. For years we’ve been working to increase the number of Arab workers in Israel – this deterioration is taking us back years. We are working as hard as we can to make it stop as soon as possible.”
Two young Palestinian Israelis remain hospitalized following a violent attacked last week by a group of Jews in a Jerusalem suburb. A delegation from the NIF-convened Tag Meir coalition visited them and a soldier who was injured in Gaza at Hadassah Hospital.
A Tag Meir activist described the visit: “We visited the neurosurgery unit at Hadassah Ein Kerem, where one of the young men [who was attacked] is hospitalized. In a nearby room there was an IDF soldier who was injured in one of the battles in Gaza. A few floors beneath them, in the intensive care unit, is the second young man who was attacked. His whole body is covered in plaster, he’s unconscious, and around him his family are hoping for a miracle. His big brother told us: “We’ve never hurt anyone. We have lived in Jerusalem since we were born, and have lived in peace with Jews. This is the first time that we have experienced violence like this.” We wished everyone a speedy recovery and more peaceful days.”
Before the war, Tag Meir activists also visited the Abu Khdeir family’s mourning tent, and organized a well-attended demonstration under the banner of “We Mourn, We Don’t Take Vengeance”.
It’s not easy at the moment to get hold of Erez Nagawker, the head of Be’er Sova, an NGO which has been working for 15 years on food security and education projects in Be’er Sheva. While busy with the organization’s increased workload since the start of the fighting, he was called up for reserve duty. Amid the chaos, NIF managed to have a brief chat with him.
What is Be’er Sova doing at the moment?
“We have the community restaurant, which is open all the time, and people come to eat. When the rockets began falling on Be’er Sheva, we had doubts as to whether to open the restaurant because it doesn’t have a protected space, and then I myself was called up for reserve duty. The volunteers decided to open it anyway.”
What happens there?
“Every day people come to get food – disadvantaged people, and also Holocaust survivors. In parallel, because people are afraid of leaving their homes, we decided to set up distribution lines: we are giving out containers of food for individual homes, senior citizen centers and also for youth clubs; everyone who needs a meal. People approach us and we deliver the containers.”
To how many people are you giving food?
“Around 80 people a day come to the restaurant to eat a warm meal, and there are around 50 families who either come to pick the food up or get it delivered.”
What are the responses?
“People are really happy that we’re open because other programs in Be’er Sheva are closed. At the beginning we didn’t think that many people would come, but when the stomach grumbles there’s no choice. More and more families are coming to request packages and we are helping everyone.”
And how are you managing with your reserve duty?
“It’s not easy to combine it with work, but I’m pleased to say that we have volunteers who decided to come and help, and they make it much easier for me. We wouldn’t succeed without them.”
Any other thoughts?
“Yes. It really moves me to see the people of Israel coming together to help during times like this, when the situation is difficult. I want to thank everyone.”
In the past few days, Israel has experienced both gruesome attacks against individuals and appalling rhetoric in the public sphere. The racism and hatred we are witnessing today in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank challenge our faith in the future for peace. New Israel Fund of Canada shares in the sorrow of this terrible moment, with deep sympathies for all of the bereaved families.
We are profoundly saddened by the military conflict now escalating. We urgently call for maximum restraint from all sides to prevent any further devastation.
We cannot allow racism by any group to threaten the future of Israel as a thriving, open, sustainable society. New Israel Fund of Canada calls upon all supporters of Israel to join with those Israelis who share our beliefs, to overcome racism, and to find a path to peace and a shared future.
Israel is strongest when it stands on the firmament of democracy and equality. Members of Israeli society have the capacity to contribute to their country’s success when they are given the tools of education, safety, legal rights, health, economic opportunity, and, not least, the guarantee of social equality. It is the work that activists in Israel are doing that offers a glimmer of hope in the face of the weeks’ events.
I want to share with you the statement from one of the partners NIFC funds, Mahapach-Taghir, a joint Jewish-Arab social justice organization working with marginalized communities across Israel:
“The past weeks have been difficult for all of us, especially for those of us who believe in solidarity and partnership between Jews and Palestinians. In the face of racism, violence and hatred we hold strongly to our values and insist on raising our voices despite criticisms from both sides.
We have recently published the following statement in Hebrew and Arabic and include below a translation to English:
In these difficult days of pain and sorrow, we the members of Mahapach-Taghir continue to believe in the path of partnership and solidarity. We express sorrow on the death of those innocent of crime and call for the end of violence against civilians on both sides. The path of partnership and dialogue is never easy, yet especially at this time we return to our communities and draw strength from them. With hope that together we will be able to deal with violence and prevent fear from controlling us, we are struggling for life.
We know that a statement alone is not sufficient and we are currently putting together an emergency conference for our Palestinian and Jewish activists from around the country. This will provide a platform for us to come together in this difficult time when partnership is most fragile. “
The social justice movement in Israel celebrated an important victory Sunday when a bill requiring direct employment of teachers passed the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Now, when the bill comes to the floor of the Knesset all members of the governing coalition are required to vote in favor.
Current law requires that employees receive benefits such as retirement pensions, continuing education credits, and vacation time. Contract workers, however, are excluded from these protections, creating a loophole that has created a second class of Israelis who lack financial security.
This week’s victory comes in the midst of an intensive campaign spearheaded by the Coalition for Direct Employment – comprised of 30 social-change organizations including NIFC partners the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Worker’s Hotline, and SHATIL – to put the issue of contract workers on the agenda of decision-makers and the public.
Nearly one-third of Israel’s public-sector employees are contract workers. Unlike their civil-service colleagues, many of them lack job security and employment benefits, and are paid less than government workers doing the same jobs. At a hearing in the Knesset on June 11, Clara Benon Kirshner, a former eldercare contract worker who now supervises other caregivers, spoke passionately about the tenuous situation facing many contract workers.
“A caregiver can be fired every day, at any moment,” Kirshner said. “She can go to work in the morning and be fired for no reason. I was fired because I refused to paint the house. Because I refused to work in gardening.(I was fired because) I refused to work on Shabbat. I was fired when they heard that I have a cat at home. I was fired because they accused me of stealing a lemon. It may sound funny, but it’s not funny. A person goes to work in the morning and is fired.”
SHATIL organizer Shira Eytan said the Knesset hearing was an important component of the awareness-raising campaign. “We got a lot of media coverage,” she said. “It was a good opening to the committee discussion. And one of the major aims of the event was to get contract workers more involved in the coalition work, both in planning and execution. This was very successful.”
Over 250 current and former contract workers and their supporters walked through the streets of Jerusalem before the hearing, and more than 100 present and former contract workers attended the hearing itself, which was hosted by MKs Haim Katz (Likud) and Micky Rosenthal (Labor).
Nir Shachar, a contractor who works as an urban planner in the Ministry of the Interior, testified at the hearing that he works “shoulder to shoulder with public workers doing the exact same job. People who walk in can’t tell the difference, but we get less vacation days, no job security, longer hours, lower salary, less sick days, and no bonuses. We’re second-class workers. When they get activities, trips, new chairs, we get nothing.”
Dr. Varda Shiffer, a researcher at the Van Leer Institute specializing in the effects of privatization of government services, criticized the concept that some work is considered core and other work isn’t—especially in the field of education, where teachers of “non-core” subjects, especially in the arts and humanities, are employed indirectly.
As the legislation on teachers advances through the Knesset, the Coalition is continuing to raise awareness among the public and decision makers in order to reduce the number of workers subject to uncertain contract employment.
Each year, Israeli environmental advocates present the prestigious Green Globe Awards to support and promote environmentally friendly projects. However, besides praising projects that are doing good, the Green Globe Awards Ceremony is also an opportunity to highlight environmentally harmful initiatives. And so, each year the Black Globe Award is presented to an organization whose work is deemed to be environmentally and socially detrimental.
This year’s award was presented on June 17th to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization for its plans to establish ten new towns for Jewish residents in the Negev periphery. The Settlement Division claims the plan will create new socio-economically stronger communities. However, there is significant evidence that this would occur at the expense of the residents of existing Negev towns such as Arad, Dimona, and Yerucham.
Similar past initiatives have shown that construction of new settlements adjacent to urban areas results in the transfer of wealthier residents to the new suburban communities, further weakening neglected regions. The plan also requires construction of additional infrastructure and roads, which will fragment a pristine environmental region that is an important local recreational area and a popular tourist site. Furthermore, the plan ignores the residents of six Bedouin communities living in the region.
Avi Dabush, NIFC-funded SHATIL’s Project Coordinator and a resident of the Negev believes that the future growth of existing Negev communities is put at risk by the Ten Towns Project. “They should take the money and make investments that won’t hurt Bedouin and the other people who will lose from this; people in Arad, Dimona, and Yerucham. Bring the effort inside and make the cities strong. From an environmental perspective, if you are making new structures and infrastructures, you are taking away open spaces in the desert and ruining it.”
Since 2011, SHATIL has played a prominent role both establishing and coordinating the Coalition to Reinforce Existing Negev Communities, a broad network of NGOs and civil society organizations such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adam Teva V’din, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Green Course, as well as grassroots activists who have highlighted the harm that this plan would pose to the region.
Instead of creating new communities, members of the Coalition believe that the government should invest in existing towns. They are working to increase local resident’s influence with planning committees and to bring national attention to the plan’s implications.
The decision to bestow this dubious honor is part of the strategy to shed light on the issue. This is especially important as Israel’s National Planning Committee is due to vote on approval of a number of settlements planned within the program in the coming weeks. The coalition is now gearing up to engage in a sustained campaign to block, or at least limit, the settlements approved.
We are told to love countless times in the Torah, and at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade thousands joined together to celebrate and to advocate for marriage equality. In touching speeches, posters, chants, and actions, the people at Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade said that love is love, and that LGBT couples should have the same rights for legal recognition of their families.
The parade showcased the diversity that Israel should be proud of. Some wore skirts and long sleeve shirts, some had head coverings or yarmulkes, some wore bikini tops and bottoms, and some dressed as fairies, gladiators, and Greek gods, but all were there to sing, smile, and celebrate freedom of love.
A part of the parade that was not to be missed was a double-decker bus with people dancing on top, inside, and on the sides. The bus was sponsored by NIF grantee Havruta – Religious Homosexuals in Israel. Havruta is the largest organization for religious gays in Israel. The organization emphasizes the Jewish ideal of acceptance, tolerance, and promoting a more equal society for everyone who calls Israel home. Havruta believes in love and freedom, and that everyone deserves a combination of both.
Havruta is only one of the many Israeli LGBT organizations that have received guidance from SHATIL and support from the New Israel Fund. Bat Kol, an organization for religious lesbians, emphasizes a similar message by supporting tolerance among the religious community. The Israeli Gay Youth Organization allows for LGBT Israelis to find a support network. Aswat: Palestinian Gay Women was formed to empower and promote the rights of Arab lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual, transgender, and intersex women who live in Israel and the territories. Aswat provides a safe environment for these women and strengthens their voice in Arab and Palestinian society. All of these groups have an important message promoting tolerance, equality, and love.
The energy of the parade was powerful and uplifting. After speeches and chants, the entire crowd walked together through the streets of Tel Aviv under colorful flags, cheered on by spectators. There were floats and performances, and finally, at the end of a long stretch of walking, the participants found themselves on an enclosed grassy space next to the sea with food, drinks, memorabilia, and live music. The togetherness and unity celebrated at the parade highlights the best of what Israel’s democracy has to offer.
Interview with Canadian NIF/SHATIL 2014-15 Social Justice Fellow Isaac Kates Rose
Isaac Kates Rose is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto in Jewish Studies, Near and Middle Eastern Civilization and Cinema Studies. He has more than five years of experience as an educator in both Jewish and musical environments. He is deeply passionate about the arts, the Earth, community-building, pluralism, and social justice. Isaac is active in the All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective and is a founder, coordinator and facilitator at Lehagshim.
Isaac spoke with Orit Sarfaty, Executive Director of New Israel Fund of Canada about his upcoming year in Israel.
What type of work do you want to be doing in your years as an SJF?
I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do work that I hold to be meaningful and that helps human beings of all backgrounds on the ground. That quest for meaningful engagement inspires me to do three kinds of work:
1) Finding the Jewish root of my activism and education. To me, that’s trying to bridge Israel’s character as a Jewish and Democratic state and not thinking that solutions to Israel’s social problems lies in emboldening one over the other, but trying to find a sustainable harmony between those two.
2) Using digital and current media and technologies to reach a wide audience of Jewish Israelis, Palestinian- Israelis, Jews in the Diaspora, and concerned observers the world over. It’s lending my energy and time to organizations that work in filmmaking, news, traditional news, alternative news and media sources.
3) People often say that Israel will remain a conflicted society until Jerusalem can be resolved as a city, a site, symbol and center of spirituality. We’re acutely aware that we say each year that we hope to be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem exists on many different plains as a terrestrial city, as a spiritual symbol, and unfortunately, as a site of bitter conflict. So in my lucky childhood in Toronto, growing up with all sorts of diverse kids in my classroom, there is this naïve and idealistic hope that people can learn to share a classroom and can also share a holy city.
What work here in Canada did you do that will help to prepare you for your time in Israel?
I’ve lived almost every day of my life in Toronto. I’ve been happy to be able to give back to the Jewish community here in a few capacities, primarily through educational initiatives. I was a Fellow at Hillel Toronto in the “Ask Big Questions” Fellowship where I facilitated conversations anchored around big questions that affect all of us between diverse communities. I was the head of the national youth movement of Hashomer Hatzair where I did leadership training with young, passionate Zionist Jews and educational work about our capacities to be advocates for social justice here, in Israel and elsewhere.
You’ll be the only Canadian in this group of Fellows. You’re going to find out how that’s going to impact your perspective compared with others. But if you had to guess, what do think being a young Canadian going to Israel is going to feel like?
I think that the sort of gentle humility that I associate with being Canadian, in a city that belongs to so many different kinds of people, will be a great gift to me in my interaction with Israelis of all kinds. It will also be a challenge because Israel demands a sort of chutzpah and a certain tenacity that often gets read by Canadians as aggressive, pushy and not what we find on our streets. The people you meet on Ben Yehuda are not often the people you’d meet on Bloor.
I think I’ve learned a lot of good lessons growing up with all the blessings I had in Toronto and I think maybe those lessons are in short supply and are badly needed there. So I think it will sometimes feel challenging but I anticipate it to be immensely rewarding to be the lone Canadian.
You’ve just graduated from college with a host of options to consider. Why SJF?
I picked up on this path or opportunity for a number of reasons. I think so many people my age are emotionally connected and tied to what is happening inside Israel and to the people who live there. I am one of those people who cares very deeply about the past, present and future of that young struggling country. While getting another degree or working would not have stopped me feeling those things, I found in the fellowship an opportunity to plant myself in the soil there and really hold myself up to the light and see how my skills and experience can be of benefit to people who could use some help and support.
Mainly I’m excited to be a NIF/SHATIL fellow to show that interest and that passion can be realized just by boarding a plane, putting your neck out there and asking, ‘how can I help?’
What advice have people been giving you, from the mundane to the idealistic?
Live in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem.
People say “be patient, it will take a while to get acclimatized.” We all want and crave seeing our efforts rewarded instantly. It’s hard enough to find our heart in a good place, so once you’ve located it, you want to wake up the next morning and be given proof that you’ve made a difference. People tell me that those differences aren’t visible the morning after a long day at the office.
NIFC’s speakers present reality of Israel’s neediest
I have just returned from NIFC’s national tour with speakers from Israel. Our two speakers, Mohammad Darawshe and Itamar Hamiel, presented the compelling reality of marginalized communities in Israel. Mohammad Darawshe of the Givat Haviva Educational Institute is a leading expert on Arab-Jewish relations. Itamar Hamiel is Associate Director of NIFC-funded Mahapach-Taghir, a grassroots feminist social action organization that works across Israel.
I would summarize the message of the events as such: the conditions of Israel’s neediest are rooted in political exclusion, social discrimination, and economic barriers. The tools to improve these conditions must be bold, receive long term government support, and be well resourced. Upon coming face-to-face with Israel’s reality, we learn one thing: conditions are improving as a result of people taking their destiny into their own hands.
Here are the facts on the ground:
• The conditions of Arab-Israelis affects all of Israel. Arab-Israelis account for 20% of Israel’s population.
• 56% of Arab-Israelis are under the poverty line compared with 20% of the general population as a whole.
• According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Arab citizens contribute only 8% to Israel’s GDP, despite constituting 20% of Israel’s population.
• Economic gaps are, in part, tied to the low level of Arab women in the workplace (20.5%) compared to Jewish women (56.7%).
• Arab-Israelis hold 10 out of 120 seats in the Knesset.
• Arab participation in elections rose to 56% in the January 2013 election, from 53% in 2009.
• Arab citizens are under-represented in higher paying sectors such as the civil service, business, high technology and finance. Out of 150,000 high-tech jobs, Arab-Israelis hold 460 positions.
• According to NIFC-funded Sikkuy, a research institute reporting on the progress of Arab-Jewish equality in Israel, in 2011, 60% of Jewish Israelis believed it was in Israel’s interest to promote equality for Arab citizens.
• Further, over half of Jews participating in a national survey voiced concern by Arab-Jewish inequality with 40% stating that they would be willing to pay a personal price to reduce the socio-economic gap between Israel’s Arab and Jewish population.
How can we address these conditions? Mahapach-Taghir has faced it head-on over the course of sixteen years, working in seven marginalized communities across Israel.
Mahapach-Taghir works with diverse populations that include Arab-Israelis, recent Russian immigrants, Bedouins, and marginalized members of the religious Jewish community across Israel.
In every community, Mahapach funds local first generation university students who then come back to their villages and jump start programs specific to their village’s needs.
A group of women in a village….
At our events, Itamar described a number of personal stories from villagers in the communities he has worked in.
Every tale inevitably starts with “A group of women in a village…” and that is because of a principle central to Mahapach-Taghir’s organization: initiatives to improve a community must come from the community itself. Every initiative that Mahapach-Taghir undertakes starts with a cup of coffee shared between villagers and organizers, the central question being, “what do you want to see in your community that is not there now?”
I’ll just share two of Itamar’s stories here:
A bus line makes all the difference
A group of women in a village identified the lack of public transit in their community as a central barrier to seeking employment and education. They had no driver’s licenses and lived too far away to walk to commercial areas. As Itamar explains it, these women faced even more barriers trying to change reality. Their husbands laughed at them; local leaders took little heed of their requests. With Mahapach-Taghir’s help, these women persuaded both the city council and the private bus company responsible for adding stops to their village to provide them with transportation into the city.
27 out of 30
A group of women in a village started to send their children to Mahapach-Taghir’s after-school tutoring program. Many of the women had only elementary-level education. Their reasoning at the time? To paraphrase, “Our chance is up. In our lifetime, we did not succeed in getting the education that a good job requires. At the very least, then, our children should have the chance we never had.”
Because parents are required to provide some type of volunteer services in exchange for the tutoring, students’ mothers were often present at their children’s lessons. Through their participation, a few women started considering tutoring not only for their kids, but for themselves. Eventually, thirty women came together with a shared desire to right past wrongs and acquire formal education. The women called their goal “Second Opportunity.”
With Mahapach-Taghir’s facilitation, local colleges and universities agreed to offer scholarships, flexible schedules, and a specialized curriculum geared towards the Second Opportunity women.
Mahapach-Taghir found them tutors to help them in English, maths, and writing their theses. Mahapach-Taghir found them childcare so they could take classes at night while their husbands worked. And, two weeks ago, Mahapach-Taghir held a celebration in honour of the Second Opportunity women. Twenty-seven of thirty women graduated from college and now hold a B.A. in education.
Why did we put on these events? Across Canada, audience members met a dynamic set of activists whose mission is being accomplished through a ground-up approach. With vivid descriptions of communities in transformation, Itamar and Mohammad delved deeply into the issues that marginalized populations face in Israel and also offered success stories helping to integrate Israel’s society. We put on these events because these are stories that need to be told.
I’m thrilled that New Israel Fund of Canada helped make this happen. Thank you to those who attended. Thanks as always to our supporters without whom this type of programming would not be possible.
“Price tag” attacks — violence by radical settlers imposing a “cost” on divergence from their political agenda – have reached epidemic levels inside Israel, with nearly daily incidents over the last few months. In particular, attacks on Arab property and mosques inside Israel are on the upswing. In response, the NIF-convened Tag Meir coalition organized a demonstration on Sunday outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence to protest the government’s inadequate response to these racist attacks.
At the event, a statement signed by 2,000 NIF supporters around the world was read: “Mr. Prime Minister: We, supporters of Israel from around the globe, appeal to you to do more in the face of escalating politically-motivated violence known as ’Price Tag.’ Price Tag is a threat to the moral fiber of Israel, to its Jewish and democratic character, and to the security of its citizens. You yourself have spoken out against Price Tag, as have so many Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum. These condemnations are important, but they are not enough. Meaningful leadership is needed to make sure that Israel’s law enforcement community can return a sense of security to all of Israel’s citizens. Please act to defend Israel from this threat.”
Tag Meir, a coalition of 43 organizations, including NIFC-funded Shatil, was formed more than four years ago with NIF support. The group confronts Price Tag violence by going to towns where attacks have occurred and holding solidarity events with the community, as well as pressuring the government to stop the attacks and arrest the perpetrators. “We need to make it clear that this cannot happen in Israel,” said Yael Ben Saadon, a Shatil intern who has worked with Tag Meir for the last several months.
Tag Meir acts on three fronts: they engage with the media by publicizing events in Arab communities in order to create greater public awareness of the attacks; they lobby the government and the Knesset to have Price Tag labeled as terrorism, and to make Price Tag victims eligible for government compensation; and third, Tag Meir member groups are preparing education programs for students, teachers, and youth movements about racism in Israel and the need for Israel to respect its religious and ethnic minorities.
Sunday’s demonstration drew almost a thousand people to the Netanyahu home. Demonstrators gathered outside the gate and held signs advocating solidarity between Jews and Arabs.
Speakers at the demonstration included Labor MK Merav Michaeli (who will join us in Toronto in September), who decried the lack of political and government figures present at the rally; Nidal Othman, head of the Coalition Against Racism; and Rabbi Benny Lau, a prominent Orthodox Rabbi in Jerusalem, among others.
“The price tag is not only those who perforate [car tires], burn, and vandalize,” Rabbi Lau told the crowd. “Price Tag is too much silence by ordinary people. Price tag is also a person who does not stand up and protest.”
Both the protest and the NIF statement demonstrate that many Israeli citizens and Jews around the world are appalled by extensive Price Tag attacks, which they see as an affront to Israeli democracy and its liberal values. “It shows that the Israeli public is sick of this,” says Ben Saadon, “and people are starting to wake up to it.”
New Course Promotes Shared Society For Jewish and Arab Citizens
Until he joined SHATIL’s Leadership for Shared Society course, which launched its first cohort in February, Uri Altman’s most significant contact with Palestinians had been as an officer in the Kfir Brigade serving in the territories.
“I grew up in a religious home and in the religious school system,” explains Altman. “This is the first time I’m meeting with Arabs and with people who have a wide range of views, which I didn’t encounter at school. I want to go into public life, and I don’t think you should do that without real experience meeting people.”
Altman joins 12 Arab and 14 other Jewish participants who were selected from more than 60 applicants. Ranging in age from 23 to 53, some have worked in organizations related to Jewish-Arab relations, while others are receiving their first serious exposure to the topic. The goal of the program is to create a network of Arab and Jewish leaders who will formulate and implement models and projects promoting a society in which all members have an equal voice and an equal sense of belonging. It is run in partnership with the Hand in Hand organization.
The participants are meeting monthly to explore each individual’s views on shared society, to strengthen his or her role as a leader, and to learn about tools and strategies for bringing about change in Israel’s current climate. At the end of the course, the participants will develop new initiatives promoting shared society.
The group meets in a different city each time – Nazareth, West Jerusalem, the Galilee village of Ba’ane, and Fureidis – giving each participant the chance to feel at home and to feel like outsiders.
As they approach the end of their first semester, the participants are completing an exercise in policy analysis and project design. Working in small groups, they chose a project idea, for example a bilingual school or a ceremony that recognizes both Israel’s Independence Day and the Palestinian loss associated with that day, and will analyze all the potential opportunities and pitfalls associated with it.
The bonds among the participants are already starting to form. Through an e-mail list and Facebook page, they are exchanging ideas, information, and experiences. One of the participants, a woman from the Jewish community of Givat Elah in the Jezreel Valley, wants to develop an initiative in her community to reach out to neighboring Arab towns in order to break down the barriers between them and develop a closer, more productive relationship.
Project Director Muhammad Khalil is impressed by the participants’ belief in their ability to have an impact. “They have that flame, and they are critical of the status quo,” he says. “They say ‘We want to make a shared society. It doesn’t matter to us what has come before.”
Altman agrees: “You can change reality. It’s not fate. We, as human beings, have a big role to play.”
The Leadership for Shared Society course is a project of the Kahanoff Fund at the New Israel Fund of Canada.
A few weeks ago, we reported that Mutasim Ali, executive director of NIFC-Supported ARDC, and also an African asylum seeker, was sent to the Holot detention facility. He has now been held there for three weeks, but a new Supreme Court ruling offers some hope for Ali and other asylum seekers. Following a petition filed by Ali, NIFC-supported Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and other NGOs, the Supreme Court called on the Ministry of Interior to hold a hearing for each asylum seeker before issuing a summons to detention. The original petition had been rejected in the district court.
Asylum seekers are being sent for indefinite detention at Holot without being given the opportunity to present their personal case or be represented by an attorney. Around 1,800 people are currently held at the detention facility. They are technically allowed to come and go, but they are required to report for roll call three times a day, or they are sent to prison.
In his ruling, Justice Fogelman said, “There is no separate administrative process for refugees; there is one administrative law for all.”
In addition, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Interior to hold a hearing in which Ali can be represented by a lawyer and present his case. Ali said: “I am pleased with the court’s decision because the most important thing is that the administrative procedure for issuing these summonses will change. My case represents everybody.”
Adv. Assaf Weitzen, representing Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, added: “Holot is no place to send anyone, no matter what the administrative procedure is, and certainly not people like Ali. But in any case, the court’s offer will give people access to legal representation before a decision is made, and allow them to present their case. This would be a reasonable administrative procedure, applied to enforce an unreasonable law. However, it’s a shame that the court didn’t give enough consideration for the people already sent to Holot without this reasonable process.”
The government formally and unanimously endorsed Sunday a plan to ensure greater employment of women in the upper ranks of the public service and to narrow wage disparities between men and women in the public service.
The plan was sponsored by Culture and Sports Minister and head of the Ministers Committee for the Advancement of Women Limor Livnat.
The plan offers a roadmap towards a more equitable and just workforce in Israel: It addresses equal representation of women in senior positions, mandates government offices to ensure equal pay and to proactively take steps against wage gaps, including setting annual objectives in the field, institutionalizing flexible work hours, allowing for telecommuting of senior staff, conducting gendered analysis of job descriptions and responsibilities, holding training and awareness raising programs and more.
The plan is based on recommendations of a public committee that was convened eight months ago to explore ways to enable women to advance in public-sector jobs. The committee, to which the Project submitted a detailed policy paper and recommendations, was established exactly one year ago, after the Project’s involvement led Minister Livnat to oppose a reform in the public sector because it did not address gender equality in general and wage gaps between men and women in particular. The Project’s recommendations were consequently adopted in full.
“Besides the achievement itself we have seen a remarkable example of what civil-society organizations can achieve through collaboration, and we in the project will continue to monitor and ensure full implementation of the recommendations,” says project director Tamar Adelstein-Zekbach.
In addition to the aforementioned cabinet decision, the project’s other accomplishments to date include:
• Shatil’s work combating gender-based wage disparities led to the enactment of a new amendment passed by the Knesset this past March requiring certain employers (including public companies, NGOs, and other bodies) to publish the wages and salary components of women separately from those of men thereby enabling better assessment, monitoring and action against wage gaps.
• Shatil’s media outreach resulted in more than 50 media items and exposed thousands of people to information on gender-based wage gaps. The important discussions and working relations they developed with key journalists are influencing both the quantity and the quality of media coverage of the issue.
• Progress has been achieved in urging employers to take steps to improve and/or adopt organizational policies aimed at equalizing wages. Three major public institutions with potential to serve as a model for others and with a total of more than 15,000 employees, agreed to undergo holistic equal pay interventions.
• Shatil has produced and launched a computerized equal pay platform helping employers to identify, assess and evaluate gender-based wage gaps in their organizations.
Funded by the European Union, Equal Pay is a joint project of Shatil, the Israeli Women’s Network, the Adva Center and the government’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
New Gedera City Council Member Yuvi Tashome, elected after eight years of community activism, says that as a result of the NIFC-funded Shatil training she attended this spring, she’s planning a collaboration with people with whom she doesn’t agree.
“It was practical, for me,” says Tashome, “not just talking.”
Ruth Lapidot, a new city council member in Binyamina/Givat Ada, went into the training thinking about how to serve her constituents, asking, “How can we return to them the feeling that they can influence their lives?”
“The training gave me a lot of strength,” says Lapidot. “Till today, the political world scared me. Through Shatil, I saw that there are good people here.”
Shatil’s “Step up: Elected Officials can Influence Cities” training was designed to give council members the tools and knowledge to do their jobs more effectively. Shatil Associate Director Naomi Schacter says, “If you decide you want to get involved, that doesn’t mean you have the skills to do so. This is a way of making the ideas, skills, and networks more widely accessible.”
Many of the most critical issues adversely affecting the vibrancy of Israeli democracy can more readily be addressed at the local level: discrimination against minorities and women, violation of religious freedoms, limited political representation of marginalized groups, centralization of power and resources and much more. Ultimately, Shatil hopes the “Step Up” training will support leaders in tackling these issues in their own communities and eventually uniting for national impact.
Tashome is opening a volunteer project in collaboration with Kol Zchut (All Rights) a volunteer-built online encyclopedia about rights and entitlements in Israel that she encountered at the training. She hopes the volunteer project will grow into “a center where citizens can learn about their rights and how to fully realize them.” To build her project with Kol Zchut, she’ll be collaborating with people from across the political spectrum.
One of the projects Lapidot was inspired to help initiate after the training was the first local citizen-planned Shavuot celebration in Givat Ada in many years. “It was a huge success,” says Lapidot. “It generated local pride, and showed people they can do things.” Lapidot has plans to open a citizen’s hotline, and to work on the status of women and environmental issues.
In six four-hour sessions, the training covered topics like budgeting, fundraising, municipal council work processes, how to increase citizen participation and getting one’s legal rights respected by municipal and national government. Participants were introduced to experts on issue areas in which they might wish to engage, and they discussed how to cultivate meaningful and lasting partnerships with NGOs, philanthropic organizations, and other municipalities.
Shatil Project Coordinator Eran Klein, who conducted the training, says it represents “the beginning of a different kind of work” for Shatil, which has recently started focusing on municipal democracy. Since the first training was in the center of the country, Shatil will be repeating it at locations in the north and the south in coming months.
Get ready, Canada! This is the season for thought-provoking events on social change in Israel. New Israel Fund of Canada is bringing superb speakers from Israel to major cities across Canada so you can speak person-to-person with some of the most groundbreaking agents of change in Israel today.
As New Israel Fund of Canada continues its outreach nationwide, we grow stronger by the thousands of supporters sharing a love of Israel and a hope for its future. What supporters tell me as I travel across Canada is their desire to understand more deeply the realities in Israel. Ideally, testimonials would come directly from Israelis themselves. When we can (and we’re doing it more and more), we proudly host Israeli community leaders in Canada. Year after year, what we have and will continue to do is to directly support efforts we strongly believe are improving the lives of Israelis every day.
Our upcoming event, “Breakthrough”, presents the leader of a pioneering community building initiative and a foremost Arab-Israeli educator speaking on transformative models of change. We are proud to bring Itamar Hamiel of Mahapach-Taghir and Mohammad Darawshe of the Givat Haviva Institute to Canada on June 8, 9, and 10th.
NIFC-funded Mahapach-Taghir immerses itself within marginalized communities across Israel and jump starts its residents to build a brighter future for themselves. Few efforts parallel Itamar’s organization, one that works with Bedouins, new Russian immigrants, Ethiopians, Haredim, and Arab-Israelis across Israel. Itamar has witnessed the transformation of destitute villagers into leaders of their communities.
Register NOW for engagements in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.
The bookend to the summer comes on September 14-17 when New Israel Fund of Canada brings Ari Shavit, bestselling author of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Shavit will be joined in Toronto by Member of Knesset Merav Michaeli and The Forward Editor-at-Large JJ Goldberg. Together, our speakers possess the perspective to discuss:
Where does equality live in Israel?
What do Canadians need to know about progress within Israel?
What will likely be the transformative change we can anticipate for Israel’s residents in the next 18 months?
Stay tuned for additional speaker announcements and registration for our fourth annual Symposium.
I read this May newsletter as a snapshot of what your contribution means – bringing Canadians face-to-face with some of the most groundbreaking individuals leading progress in Israel and supporting the efforts that happen on the ground in Israel bringing about that progress right now.
Israel’s government announced recently that it will allocate one billion Shekels to assist Holocaust survivors. But NIFC- funded Shatil insists much more can be done – specifically in terms of providing more public housing to survivors.
To raise public awareness and to persuade the government, Shatil launched a media blitz in the days surrounding Yom Hashoah about the critical housing problem faced by Israel’s aging — and often needy — Holocaust survivors.
“Too many survivors must spend the vast majority of their money on rent, leaving insufficient funds to for food and medicine,” said Shatil media expert, Danny Gigi.
Shatil arranged for Gita Koifman, head of a Holocaust survivor advocacy group and a survivor herself, to appear on a popular Channel Two morning talk show to debate this issue with Minister of Pensioner Affairs Uri Orbach. Lev Eran, a Shatil community organizer, discussed the issue on Israeli radio. Shatil consultant Nadia Aizner helped create a news piece on RTVI, an important Israeli Russian news channel, and authored a number of editorials about public housing for Relevant Info, a progressive Russian blog.
“This is a problem that must be solved,” said Gigi. “Raising public awareness is one step toward that goal.”
In the spirit of freedom that characterizes the holiday, NIF was one of the sponsors of a special Seder held just outside Holot Detention Facility in the Western Negev, where African refugees are now incarcerated. The participants included hundreds of detainees, their compatriots from the rest of the country, and a large number of Israeli activists.
Around 1,800 people are currently held at Holot. They are technically allowed to come and go, but they are required to report for roll call three times a day, or they are sent to prison.
A special Seder for the African community has taken place every year since 2007; this was the first time it has been held at one of the facilities built to detain asylum seekers. The purpose of the event was to draw parallels between the Passover story and the current experiences of Africans seeking asylum in Israel.
Musa Abdulaye, a board member of the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), said: “Passover commemorates the Jews’ escape from a dictator. We decided to do this event in Holot to remind them what happened; people who went through the same thing are being put in prison and labeled as criminals. If we keep pushing this, then the Supreme Court will repeal this law and release these Africans. It’s important to show solidarity with the people in prison, to show them that they’re not alone.”
The Seder featured matzah, a communal meal, music, drama performances, and speeches by Africans and Israelis.
Among the speakers was Rabbi Susan Silverman, who told the crowd that “every single person in this country who sits down to a Passover Seder has to say to themselves, ‘Am I taking care of the stranger among us right now?’ Everyone’s got to look around and see what we are doing with the strangers in our own country.”
Jack, an asylum seeker from Darfur who has spent two months in Holot, said: “Life here is unimaginable. We live in a prison. It will take us five hours to get back in after this. The Seder is spiritual. It’s good that people are becoming aware and are getting involved. They need to learn that we’re good people.”
Another speaker was Mutasim Ali, executive director of ARDC, who came to Israel five years ago. “We’ve brought Israelis here so they can hear the stories,” he said. “Only Israelis can change the policy. They have to understand why people escaped.”
Ali himself has been ordered to report to Holot on May 5th, and a hearing against the legality of his being jailed without a hearing and without explanation will be held later in May.
In response, Ali said: “I know that the policy of the government is to place Eritreans and Sudanese in prison, but it’s not fair that they send people to prison and don’t allow them to present their [asylum] claims. Our problem is not just with Holot, but with the entire policy of the state toward refugees. I will accept what the court decides, but I still have hope that things will change.”
Ali is being represented in his appeal by ARDC and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. In addition, in response to a petition by a number of NIF human rights grantees, the Supreme Court will rule later this year on the legality of the broader policy of sending asylum seekers to Holot.
This past winter, NIFC-supported Shatil shared strategies from its Shared Society program and learned from the experience of activists from around the world at the International Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT) in Kaduna, Nigeria, a region of six million where inter-communal conflict between Christians and Muslims has killed thousands.
Fathi Marshood, director of Shatil’s Haifa branch, Dror Eytan, a Shatil organizational consultant and two Haifa municipality officials met with participants who, due to political realities, would never have had the opportunity to encounter Israelis — including delegates from Lebanon and Iraq. Representatives from Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Cyprus, Jerusalem and several non member African countries also attended.
Marshood said the Kaduna activists were thrilled to host the conference, as were the government officials and tribal leaders in attendance. Because of actions of the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, the entire delegation was not allowed to leave the hotel without a police escort.
Marshood said Shatil’s successful experience in building a strong network of activists and municipal officials working together to build a shared society in Haifa was instructive to NGOs that have less experience in soliciting local government support. The Haifa delegates also shared the strategy of focusing on economic problems in the city and the region through such initiatives as “Galilee Together,” which promotes cooperation between the business and public sectors in northern Israel.
Nigerian Conference“In addition to the benefits on the ground, beginning by working together on practical problems like ecological and economic issues helps to build trust so when you discuss more difficult issues, like differing historical narratives, you do so from a different perspective,” said Eytan.
The dialogue will continue in the spring, when women activists from Kaduna will visit Haifa to participate in Shatil-organized workshops on women’s rights and empowerment.
Trained as an urban planner, I can attest to the importance of whole-scale change to address a social or environmental issue. Addressing housing discrimination, for instance, requires research exhibiting block-by-block racial bias in tenant selection; media coverage; policies addressing selection criteria and “redlining”; and public advocates to see that anti-discrimination laws are actually implemented. While a single initiative can be the pivotal domino that topples all the others down, it often takes cooperation across several fields and interests to see a civil rights change through to completion.
This month’s stories are cases in point:
A woman in Israel today faces serious challenges if her request to divorce is rejected by her husband. Societal structures are set firmly in place – from judicial law to community mores – to perpetuate her struggle for a fair and timely divorce and, beyond that, equitable rulings on child custody and support.
Read how a campaign that extended from lay activists to rabbis is reshaping the mold for Israeli divorce.
Security checks at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport have consistently profiled Israeli-Arabs and Palestinian travelers regardless of perception of threat. This is a practice even airport authorities admit to.
In the process, mothers are separated from their children for questioning; possessions are confiscated for searches; and body-searches are typical.
As this month’s article details, a victory against racial profiling was only the first step in changing reality.
The New Israel Fund of Canada purposely focuses on four impact areas to achieve is mission of equality in Israel. Together, projects fighting for economic justice, women’s rights, civil and human rights, and religious pluralism are behind the widespread progress we’ve seen over our nearly 30 years working in Israel. We need everyone – from rabbis to legislators, from activists to teachers – to work with us. And, because of this, we undertake grassroots efforts within every corner of Israeli society.
In the run-up to International Agunah Day, the Tzohar organization announced that all of its rabbis will now require a couple to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, so as to prevent agunot (chained wives) and get (a Jewish divorce) refusal. At the same time, Beit Hillel, which was founded in 2012 to counter religious extremism and bridge the secular-religious divide, is planning on distributing new proposals on how to reduce the number of agunot in Israel. NIF grantee ICAR (The International Coalition for Agunah Rights) has been campaigning on this issue for the last ten years.
In response to these developments, Robyn Shames, the Executive Director of ICAR, said: “Rabbis are finally taking responsibility for this issue and are not leaving this only to the activists. However, there is still a need for a systemic solution, as prenuptials do not cover all of the problems, especially that of the classic aguna [whose husband has disappeared or is unable to give a get]. This is the first step in the right direction.”
ICAR, a coalition of 27 advocacy groups, has drafted 15 suggestions for new legislation on agunot. Representatives will be presenting them to the Knesset’s Committee on Women in May. One of the proposed laws would stop the “race of jurisdiction,” in which whomever gets to the court first with a divorce request acquires sole jurisdiction. Religious courts tend to favor the husband much more than secular courts, and many husbands file there as quickly as possible for that reason.
ICAR is also campaigning to open up the position of rabbinical court administrator, a position which does not have to be filled by an Orthodox rabbi, to women. Robyn Shames said: “We are very active in trying to get the best rabbinical court judges appointed. We strongly believe that if the right people will sit there, 85% if not more of these cases will be solved.”
Following a petition by flagship NIFC-funded the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and women’s group Itach-Maki, the Supreme Court has ordered the state to ensure that women and Arabs are fairly represented on the Israel Land Authority (ILA) Council. Since 2009, this committee has been overwhelmingly dominated by Jewish men. Judge Asher Gronish ruled that “the lack of representation of Arab citizens and the under-representation of women is unacceptable.”
The petition, which was filed in 2010, demands the appointment of women and Arabs as permanent members of the ILA Council at a ratio that ensures fair representation of these populations. The ILA controls 93% of the land in Israel, and has huge input into land use decisions. There is only one woman, the director-general of the Ministry of Justice, and no Arabs currently serving on the ten-member Council.
Itach-Maaki attorney Anat Tahon-Ashkenazi said: “The Israel Lands Authority is one of the most powerful public bodies in the country, and the decisions of its governing council have a direct bearing on our lives – whether on issues of planning, housing costs, or even our health. In the management of a body like this, there must include representation of the entire population and the different interests within it.”
ACRI attorney Auni Banna, who represented the petitioners, added: “It appears the Justices also reasoned that consenting to the state’s attempts to avoid its obligations would create an opening for systematic violation of the law and perpetuate the exclusion of minority and disadvantaged groups from decision-making centers.”
A report by NIFC-funded Adva Center uncovered apparent discrimination in Israel’s salary structure. According to the findings, Ashkenazi Jews earn significantly more than Mizrachim, while Arabs earn even less on average. Ashkenazim earned 42% more than the average urban worker in 2012, while Mizrachim earned only 9% more than the average, which still represents an improvement. Arabs earned 34% below the average, continuing the decrease in their average salaries from previous years.
Ariane Ophir, a research assistant at the Adva Center, said: “The gap between Ashkenazim and Mizrachim is explained by different educational levels and occupations, but also by discrimination and different opportunities and starting points of each ethnic group in the Israeli labor force.”
According to the study, “Inequality is recognized around the world as a social and economic threat. Not so in Israel. Here, the government chooses to deal – or more accurately, not to deal – [with inequality] through commissions targeting pinpoint issues: the Trajtenberg Committee [on the high cost of living], the committee on economic concentration, or the committee for the war on poverty . . . inequality is a macro-economic and macro-social issue that must be dealt with through highest-level governmental and economic [policy].”
In 2012, the average woman’s monthly wage was only 66% of a man’s, although that is partially explained by the fact that women are more likely to work part-time or in temporary jobs. On an hourly basis, they earned 84.9% of what men did.
Last week, a law forcing government authorities to publish detailed reports on gendered wage gaps passed its second and third reading. According to the law, managers will be required to analyze their salary data by gender, and to act upon the results.
“As a teacher, I teach my students the subjects they need to learn. As a human being, I educate them towards acceptance, compassion, and tolerance – not just for the other but for themselves and for the diverse society in which they live.” -SHATIL anti-racism campaign poster.
To mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21st, NIFC-funded SHATIL and eight partnering civil society organizations collaborated on an online campaign that reached thousands of Israelis. Premised on the power of education to create change, the campaign focused on raising awareness and encouraging teachers throughout the country to tackle the issue of racism in their classrooms.
According to a recent SHATIL-commissioned survey, 95% of Israelis see racism as a problem; 80% believe there is racism toward Ethiopian immigrants; and more than two-thirds say there is racism towards Arabs. Seventy percent feel the government doesn’t do enough to combat racism. And 19% said the government encourages racism. Most respondents said that education is the way to address the problem, and that the Ministry of Education should take the lead.
The committed partners in this effort: Tebeka, Achoti, the Israeli Democratic Rainbow, the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews; the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI); Morashteinu; Tag Meir; the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Coalition against Racism.
Materials distributed by the campaign included ideas for activities for students from kindergarten through high school, items for classroom use, background articles, and posters telling the stories of eight different communities’ experiences of racism. Additionally, a website with tools and materials for teachers to use (which remains online for teachers’ use) was posted in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and Amharic.
The Coalition against Racism, coordinated the advocacy elements of the campaign, including a Knesset conference about the role of education in reducing racism.
The campaign was initiated by SHATIL and eight organizations that work against racism and in education, but which had not previously collaborated.
“The joint campaign against racism is a fine example of the power of professional collaboration between social change organizations,” said SHATIL Program Director, Avi Dabush.
The survey received wide media coverage both within Israel and abroad.
The Racism Day campaign launched SHATIL’s renewed efforts to reduce racism in Israel, including a training on leadership and countering racism for Ethiopian-Israeli activists, providing newly elected Ethiopian municipal officials with the tools and skills needed to work effectively on issues of prime importance to their community, and intensive guidance to anti-racism groups such as the NIF-supported Tag Meir coalition, and others.
Since March 9th, Ben Gurion Airport has been running a new, automated system for checking passengers’ bags. This follows the filing of a legal petition by NIFC-funded grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in 2007 challenging Israeli security agency Shin Bet, the Israel Airports Authority, and the Transportation Ministry to end the discriminatory practice of subjecting all Arab travelers to special security checks.
In the years since the petition was filed, reforms had been avoided, with the authorities claiming that the profiling of passengers was necessary, and that they lacked the resources to treat all passengers equally.
Now Israeli-Arab and Palestinian travelers have reported some positive changes to ACRI: they haven’t been asked invasive and aggressive personal questions, their possessions haven’t been taken from them to be searched, and they haven’t been separated from other passengers and body-searched.
ACRI is encouraged by these developments. At the same time, the group does not intend to withdraw the legal petition until further changes are made. Attorney Auni Banna explained: “Questions remain about other ‘search stations’ during the [security] check – the interrogation, the body search – before the flight, but also on return to Israel, after landing.”
Follow a gripping issue in the National section of your newspaper and you’re apt to ask, as I do: How does change happen? Who makes those decisions that then have seismic impact on society?
Case in point: With the backing of a corporate foundation, university researchers chronicle the homeless population of a major urban centre. Instigated by attention from local press and activists, the City Council budgets funding for a long-term labour and housing policy that had been stalled for years. A not-for-profit then spearheads the implementation, a private-public partnership between the municipality and local developers.
What triggered this domino effect? What long-term planning led to a seemingly rapid whirlwind of progress?
What New Israel Fund of Canada demonstrates – what its fundamental methodology is based on, in fact – is the impact of a multi-pronged campaign focused on societal change. In the event of a crisis, NIFC is there with emergency aid. Over the course of three decades, NIFC fights battles incrementally for long-term change to take effect.
Take the articles in this month’s newsletter. They reflect the spectrum of initiatives behind long-term change in a complex society.
First-hand, Oscar Olivier has witnessed the plight of refugees in Israel. Change takes place at the street level, where Olivier gives voice to the prejudice that today’s refugees suffer from.
Following a long legal battle, the children of migrant workers will now be granted legal status in Israel. The case ends years of limbo for children growing up in Israel. Legal advocates, policymakers, funders like NIF, and the press all helped to make this a reality.
It took a petition to the Supreme Court (as well as an effective rally among North American rabbis spearheaded by NIF) to transform the landscape of city rabbis in Israel. A subtle change in the way that social welfare payments are made to recipients may lead to a ripple effect on domestic violence and women’s economic independence in Israel. Two discrete changes in policy that may snowball into wider change for religious pluralism and economic justice in Israel.
You’ll see from just this month’s articles and from the events scheduled in Toronto and Vancouver that change is measured in different ways. Examined together and over time, individual shifts – in perception, in policy, in implementation – can indeed have seismic impact on society.
Over nearly thirty years, NIFC is part of this change and its transformation of Israeli society.
Following a long struggle by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and Israeli Children, the Minister of Interior announced that 221 children of migrant workers will receive legal status to stay in Israel. Aged 8-23, most of these children were born in Israel and they all study or studied in the Israeli educational system.
In August 2010, the government decided to grant legal status to migrant children who met the following conditions: their parents entered the country legally; they were educated in Israeli schools; they had been in the country for at least five consecutive years; and they spoke Hebrew.
Following this decision, the Interior Ministry received 700 applications for residency permits. The ministry approved around 350 requests and turned down about 100. The rest were left in limbo. When a family’s request for legal status was rejected, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and Israeli Children appealed the decision. “In my decision I took into account the major delay in dealing with the applications of the children who have grown up here and are, in fact, Israeli,” said Minister Saar.
Rotem Ilan of Israeli Children said: “Ever since the government’s 2010 decision, these children have lived in continuous uncertainty and trepidation. Now, after a four year struggle, they are finally legal residents in the country they were born into, which has become their only home.”
Galit Torpor, aged 20, whose parents came from Ghana and who will receive residency as a result of the decision, said: “I’m really glad that this struggle is over. I go around smiling! For children like me, aged 16 and above, this can be really significant. We need an identity card to do many things in our lives and when we don’t have it, it’s very frustrating.”
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and Israeli Children will now begin the process of helping the families obtain all the documents the Ministry of Interior requires in order to grant legal status.
Following a long struggle by NIFC- supported Itach-Maki (Women Lawyers for Social Justice), the ministerial committee passed a law which will reduce women’s financial reliance on their husbands.
According to the law, which was promoted by MKs Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Dov Khenin (Hadash), social welfare payments will now be transferred to a couple’s shared account instead of to the man’s account. The hope is that this will increase the economic independence of vulnerable women, and will be particularly vital in the case of abusive relationships.
Itach-Maki Director Keren Shemesh-Perlmutter said: “Economic violence against women is a major problem that hasn’t been sufficiently confronted on a legal level. This change creates a precedent, and we hope that in the coming years there will be more advances in the field.”
Itach-Maki aims to create social change by using the law to address the needs and rights of women from the social, economic, and geographic periphery of Israel.
The words “refugees” and “South Tel Aviv” bring to mind poverty, racism and violence. But Congolese asylum-seeker Oscar Olivier, together with African and veteran Israeli neighborhood residents, is changing that reality. With the help of NIFC-supported Achoti, the African Refugee Development Center, NIF and Shatil, they formed Power to the Community, a mixed group that aims to tackle neighborhood problems together. new Israel Fund of Canada is prous to back Power to the Community as one of its 2014 projects.
“We did a wonderful training with Shatil, in which we identified our common interests,” says Oscar, 46, who speaks fluent Hebrew and is the father of a 10-year-old sabra. “We started with security. People are afraid to going out.” The group organizes joint neighborhood patrols and advocates for greater police presence, better lighting and an end to what they see as the municipality’s neglect of the neighborhood. With the proceeds of a community market, the group helps residents in dire need, such as an Israeli woman who was evicted from her home.
“When we started, Israelis called Africans infiltrators. Today you have Israelis who call Africans by their names,” says Oscar.
Oscar reached activists from around the country with his message of dialogue and cooperation at Shatil’s Strategies for Combating Racism Conference, and became a spokesperson for the tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets in early 2014 to ask the government to respect its international commitments to refugees.
Following a petition to the Supreme Court by NIFC-supported Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, the Religious Services Ministry will change the manner in which city rabbis are chosen.
According to the new law, the rabbis will be chosen by an elected assembly. Half of this assembly will be made up of representatives from each party with seats in the municipal council (proportionate to their size); one quarter from the fields of education, business, and religious institutions; and another quarter from synagogue representatives.
For the first time there will be no place for members of the religious council. In addition, at least 31% of the representatives will be women.
According to Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah CEO Shmuel Shetach: “The participation of representatives of the residents and women… in the election for city rabbis will result in the election of moderate and open-minded city rabbis…who will understand that they are emissaries of all the residents of the city, and not just of one or another sector or of this or that party.”
A commitment to social and economic justice means setting the foundations for long-term change as well as seizing opportunities at critical junctures.
New Israel Fund of Canada’s approach to social and economic justice as well as our other impact areas – women’s rights, civil and human rights, and religious pluralism – does just that.
This month’s newsletter offers three powerful case studies.
Till now, the mostly-Arab residents of Lod, southeast of Tel Aviv, have been disconnected from the national electricity grid. To power their homes, they’ve resorted to dangerous and illegal means. Check out the precedent-setting plan that will improve Arab residents’ lives.
Read about a type of immigrant integration that is surely a best practice well outside of Israeli society. Thanks to intimate knowledge of societal needs in Israel, NIFC is setting down long-term roots to improve the lives of Russian immigrants. SHATIL, our partner in social change, has succeeded in creating a vital tool for greater integration in Israel.
Lastly, link to a recent victory that will affect a full one-third of Israel’s population who live below the poverty line. After 16 years on the books, a critical law will finally be implemented.
Responding to needs as soon as they arrive plus setting the groundwork for long-term change – these are integral approaches to achieve social and economic justice. Thanks to our donors for supporting New Israel Fund of Canada in these efforts.
It’s 2014, and Israel is considered a Western country. But thousands of Lod residents have been using dangerous, makeshift ways of getting electricity into their homes.
After a rare collaboration between recently elected mayor Yair Revivo, opposition city council members, activists and residents, they will finally join the rest of the country in connecting to the national electricity grid.
Accompanied by the activists and city council members, Revivo announced at a January Knesset Finance Committee meeting that he would work to connect unrecognized Arab neighborhoods in Lod to the electric grid as soon as possible.
NIFC- funded SHATIL Lod Housing Rights Project Director Abed Shehade, who has been working with neighborhood activists, welcomed the mayor’s precedent-setting decision. “This joint effort is an important step that demonstrates an awareness of the needs of the Arab residents of Lod,” he said. “We will do our utmost to assist the city to advance the legalization of the city’s Arab neighborhoods and to speed up their connection to electricity.”
The neighborhoods are unrecognized and unplanned. Residents cannot obtain building permits and there is an abundance of unauthorized building. These buildings are then subject to demolition. A new plan is being developed, recognizing the neighborhoods. However, until then approximately half of the 19,000 Arab residents of Lod live in “illegal” buildings and 2,600 housing units are still slated for demolition. Mayor Revivo’s decision is a major step forward toward legalizing the status of the neighborhoods and enabling Arab residents to be full and equal citizens of Lod.
At the Knesset, Revivo said, “We have a historic opportunity to right an injustice that was done to the city and to the Arab sector. We have to look the Arab public in the eye and say, ‘You are right, there have been years of injustice!’ ” Finance Committee head Professor Avishai Braverman promised the Knesset would back Revivo and find the funds to legalize the neighborhoods.
The changes in Lod are also reflected in the word of opposition city council member Maha El-Nakib who said: “This is the first time the Arab city council members have come to the Knesset with the municipality. In the past, the municipality was always against us.”
SHATIL has been working on housing and planning rights in Lod for the past decade, and is currently helping Arab and vulnerable Jewish residents make an impact on the city’s new plan.This work has helped bring about a pause in the home demolitions and has mobilized residents. The fact that Revivo, a member of the Likud party, would choose to advance this issue is a testament to how “mainstream” the issue has become.
These neighborhoods lack paved streets and sidewalks, public transportation and playgrounds, postal service and garbage. These matters have yet to be resolved.
Thousands of Israelis will be able to take a critical step out of the poverty chain thanks to the efforts of the NIFC- funded SHATIL-led Public Housing Forum.
After several years in deep freeze, Israel’s Public Housing Law, passed in 1998, will now be implemented again due to the Forum’s intensive work.
“Israel’s public housing law is social legislation of the first order,” said SHATIL policy expert, Danny Gigi. “One third of Israelis live below the poverty line and families spend more money on housing than anything else. Implementation of the Public Housing Law will help thousands of Israelis who have difficulty meeting basic needs like food, medicine and housing and will significantly reduce intergenerational poverty in the country.”
For the past several years, the government did not implement the law requiring it to sell public housing residents their apartments at a subsidized price after five years. In addition, the nearly NIS 2.7 billion the government received from previously sold apartments mysteriously disappeared. The law stipulates that the funds be used for building additional public housing units. Instead, the funds covered other government expenses – and those expenses are shrouded in mystery.
“The Forum for Public Housing will continue to fight for those billions that belong to the people who need them for their survival,” said Gigi.
The renewed implementation of the law was accomplished largely through the efforts of Yisrael Beitanu MK Orly Levy-Abekasis. Backed by the Public Housing Forum, she brought the issue of the Public Housing Law to the attention of the Knesset, including the Children’s, Immigrants and Welfare Committees. SHATIL’s Russian media specialist, Nadia Aizner, published articles about Levy-Abekasis’ campaign in Israel’s Russian-language media. As a result, the Russian community’s increased awareness bolstered Levy-Abekasis and Yisrael Beiteinu’s position on the issue, pressuring the government to act.
In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Finance Minister Yair Lapid to enforce the law, and by January, the government announced its implementation and the selling of public housing recommenced.
Much work remains. The government has also given subsidized apartments to nonprofit organizations, synagogues and other bodies that were not entitled to them, which added to the bottleneck of needy people waiting for housing. The Public Housing Forum is fighting to get the government to change this practice.
In addition, it is working for enforcement of a stipulation in the law that requires the government to increase the number of public housing units. These efforts, in addition to recovering the lost funds, are vitally important as funds are needed to build additional public housing apartments.
On December 19th, NIFC-funded SHATIL launched a new Russian-Speaking Experts Bank that is already bringing new professional Russian voices and expertise to the Russian and Hebrew media.
The Experts Bank was created in response to a need to widen the discourse in the Russian media — and on the Russian street in Israel – to include voices of democracy, rights, social justice and a shared society. The Bank will also bring a greater diversity of Russian voices to the Hebrew media on general issues (not specific to the Former Soviet Union [FSU] community) as well.
SHATIL chose 70 experts from among hundreds of candidates and will gradually add more experts. Their areas of expertise — along with contact information, photos, activities and education — appear in Russian and Hebrew in an online data base in which journalists can find interviewees, analysts and responders at the click of a mouse.
“There are one million Russian-speakers in Israel but we don’t often see them represented on Hebrew language television or newspapers,” says Rachel Shapiro who has a doctorate in education and is happy to be represented in the Experts Bank. “This important initiative will change that situation and will also provide experts on a variety of issues to the Russian language media in Israel.”
At the festive launch, Bar Ilan University sociology professor Larisa Remennick provided the 70 journalists, experts and activists with an overview of the FSU community’s integration experiences and influences on employment, education, culture, religion, the media and more. Panels examined issues of Jewish identity, racism, and the community’s relationship with the majority culture and with other minorities. Shatil also screened a fun presentation, “23 facts about the Russian immigration,” marking 23 years since the mass arrival of Russian immigrants.
SHATIL also uses the Experts Bank proactively. For example, after the recent suicide of a gay teenager, project coordinator Nadia Aizner offered the services of a researcher on LGBT Russian youth integration into Israeli society to the host of a prime time news show on the Russian language TV channel. The Russian media has welcomed and collaborated with the Experts Bank.
The 70 experts in democracy, education, welfare, immigration and absorption, housing, economics, employment, gender, religion and individual rights were trained by SHATIL to speak to the media. Ninety percent of them are academics, 70% are women and there is a high representation of LGBT and young people.
The launch was covered extensively in Russian language newspapers, internet sites and on the radio. In the first week, one of the experts appeared on a prime time news show on the Russian-language Channel 9.
This year, New Israel Fund of Canada’s work in Israel had the type of impact we could only dream of. Extraordinary progress from our signature projects. Confidence in the future from fledgling initiatives. Together, we have worked successfully to further democracy and equality in Israel.
On behalf of Israelis benefiting from our projects, I want to thank you for your support.
Several times a year, I interact with those community organizers who help to implement our projects in Israel. This is my opportunity to share with you specific instances where your support has made a difference.
The following reflects real work taking place on the ground right now.
• A college course for Israelis with disabilities inspired a social venture incubator where participants with disabilities implemented new community programs.
• A Russian immigrant congregation in Haifa partnered with an Arab-Jewish community center on events, classes, and projects to promote tolerance.
• The first members of their families to enter college, young Arab women returned to their villages and organized high school students to renovate their school.
• Arab civics teachers in the Negev, Nazareth, and Sakhnin underwent advanced training to address racism, violence, and gender discrimination in their communities.
Here at home, New Israel Fund of Canada brought Canadians face-to-face with Israeli activists.
This year, at discussions in Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Toronto as well as through a new website, annual report, and this newsletter, NIFC helped to build a community of Canadians who, because of their love for Israel, feel compelled to support its ongoing progress.
In 2013, Canadians in their 20s and 30s held intimate meetings with Knesset and NGO leaders to discuss everything from careers in social change to the Haredi military draft.
To those of you who advocate on behalf of a better Israel, I thank you.
The year is almost over and we are close to our fundraising goal. Please make a special donation now so we can continue to reach even more people in 2014.
Next year, I look forward to sharing with you new stories, impact felt here and abroad, and more opportunities for us to gather as a community in support of Israel.
Following a five-year campaign by the NIFC-funded Adva Center, which is the leading Israeli research institute analyzing issues of economic equity, Finance Minister Yair Lapid has appointed a special committee charged with examining the state budget from a gender perspective.
In Adva’s view, gender analysis of the budget process is necessary for understanding how resources are divided between women and men and whether their distribution addresses their respective needs and priorities. The budget is not just bean counting, but a strategic tool for advancing the status of women and reducing gender inequality, one that has been used effectively in other countries.
As in Canada and the U.S., Israeli women earn less than men, and they constitute a majority of those receiving income support and welfare payments. Women and men also make use of public services – education, health, public transportation, and welfare – differently. Adva Center Executive Director Barbara Swirski said: “This has real potential for increasing gender equality; not only for women as a single group but also looking at women from different communities. We hope it will help increase the number of jobs available and give women job opportunities, especially women who have more serious employment problems, for example Arab women and women over the age of 45.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said: “The state budget is the clearest reflection of economic priorities in Israel as a state. A gender analysis during the process of budget preparation is an important tool for promoting the status of women and reducing gender inequality in Israeli society.” The committee will commence work immediately and is expected to submit recommendations by May 2014.
More than 200 activists came together on October 29th for the sold-out Strategies for Fighting Racism Conference. The Arab-Hebrew Theater in Old Jaffa was filled to capacity; registration to the event was closed the day before due to the overwhelming response. The event brought together activists to discuss, share, and learn about the ongoing struggle against racism in Israel, including strategies for combating it.
In recent years, Israel has seen a disturbing rise in incidents of racism as well as the passage of in racist legislation and racist rhetoric by public leaders. In response, NIFC- funded SHATIL together with NIF, grantees the Coalition against Racism in Israel, the Mizrachi Democratic Rainbow, the Mossawa Center, and tens of other partners organized the conference as a launching pad for a coordinated effort to fight this phenomenon.
In her opening remarks, SHATIL Director Ronit Heyd noted that a disturbing number of racist incidents in Israel today come from politicians who are also responsible for an increase in racist legislation in the Knesset. “SHATIL and other organizations are not afraid to stand up to this legislation,” she said. Nidal Othman, of the Coalition against Racism, said that “at the end of the day, it’s the government that is responsible [for racism in Israel] – it’s the government and the Knesset that we need to change and influence.”
Dr. Werner Puschra, director of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Israel, one of the conference’s sponsors, noted that “a shared society requires an inclusive national idea,” meaning that in order to have a truly pluralistic, shared society, its members must buy into the idea of inclusiveness. That is a goal for which the organizers and conference participants are striving.
Shutafut-Sharakah, a forum of civil society organizations promoting a shared society for Jews and Arabs in Israel, of which SHATIL is a member, used the conference to launch their interactive real-time mapping of racist incidents, including acts of violence and vandalism. On the organization’s Hebrew language Facebook page, Israelis can post information whenever they encounter racism in Israel, such as racist graffiti.
Speaking on behalf of the Russian community, Eddie Zhensker pointed out the irony that while “Israelis love Aliyah [immigration], they don’t always like the olim [immigrants]. “Zhensker was one of six speakers — members of Israel’s Mizrachi, Russian, Ethiopian, Arab, African refugee, and Haredi communities – who shared their personal experiences with racism in Ted-talk style talks. SHATIL-led pre-conference training for the speakers resulted in powerful and moving presentations.
“The walls we build to protect ourselves eventually become our prisons,” said New Israel Fund’s Pazit Adani, arguing that racism is a product of fear of the other. “The idea of combating racism in Israel is a relatively new one and developing the tools to fight it is still a work in progress.” Opportunities for activists to meet in forums like this are a step in the right direction.
As part of its efforts to equalize wage gaps between women and men in Israel, NIFC- funded SHATIL has declared 2014, which marks the 50th anniversary of Israel’s underused Equal Pay Law, as “Equal Pay Year”.
Despite the legislation on the books, women still earn an average of 34% less than men doing equal work. SHATIL’s Equal Pay project, in partnership with the Israel Women’s Network (IWN), the Adva Center, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is attempting to narrow the pay gap between women and men by working with employers and advocating for policy change.
Two amendments to existing laws advocated by the three-year EU-funded project and sponsored by MK Aliza Lavi, chair of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset last week.
The first amendment will enable women who are paid less than men to be compensated for the very fact of gender-based discrimination and not only for the financial damages suffered. It will also enable women’s and workers’ advocacy groups to receive relevant data from employers. Currently, only the employee can ask for wage information, which prevents many women from filing complaints for fear of being fired. The second amendment focuses on greater wage transparency.
As a first step in raising awareness about the issue, SHATIL and its partners released an upbeat video clip (in Hebrew) featuring government ministers and MKs from across the political spectrum voicing their support for equal pay. “The importance of the law is not in doubt, but a large part of the public generally does not know its existence,” Livnat told Ynet, which featured the film clip on its home page. “I’m sure [the project] Equal Pay will help raise the issue on the public agenda…and help it to be enforced and will expose many women to the rights that are legally theirs.”
A successful grassroots campaign will prevent the closure of the historic Inbal Cultural Center in Tel Aviv. Due to funding criteria established by the Ministry of Culture, the Center, which is devoted to Mizrachi dance and performance art, was under threat of having its budget removed.
The Coalition for the Equal Distribution of Cultural Funds in Israel (‘Heart in the East’ coalition) organized a petition and letter-writing campaign which was publicized on NIF social networks, and led to the Ministry of Culture reversing their decision. Discrimination in cultural funding in Israel is a major issue; for example, only five percent of the NIS55,900,000 culture budget goes to Mizrachi music.
The Inbal Center is a unique Israeli cultural institution which stages thousands of performances a year. “Cultural institutions that depend on government funding can’t suddenly be left without a budget,” said Ofer Amsalam, the director of the Ashkelon Andalusian Orchestra, one of the members of the Heart in the East’ Coalition. “The Ministry of Welfare is now working out new criteria for funding, and the Coalition is also involved in dialogue and cooperation on this issue.”
Einstein’s Theory at Play in Israel
Israel today is an exercise in mathematics. I’m not talking about the price of cottage cheese. More like non-Euclidean geometry. In Israel, the lives of Arabs and Jews are like parallel lines on a sheet of paper. The disparity between Jewish and Arab citizens is significant with respect to employment opportunity, education, healthcare, and civil rights.
And, yet, what we know about parallel lines- thanks to Einstein’s theory of special relativity- eventually they will converge (or, more accurately, they weren’t parallel lines to begin with).
Among other findings, the 2013 Israeli Democracy Index reveals the perception of Israelis about Arab-Jewish social relations. Since 2003, the Index, supported by the Israel Democracy Institute, has surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 Israeli adults spanning age, religion, ethnicity, and geography.
Among its findings are reflections of Arabs and Jews leading parallel lives. What is also evident, however, is the hope that lies within Einstein’s theory – that these paths will eventually converge as a single society.
On a piece of paper, parallel lines are infinite and do not intersect.
The Democracy Index describes a disturbing reality among Jews and Arabs:
*A full 82% of Jewish Israelis assess Israel’s overall situation as either “good” or “so-so.” That rate drops down to 61% among Arab citizens.
*Where 83% of Jewish Israelis are proud to be Israelis, only 40% of Arab Israelis share that sentiment.
*Among all rifts challenging Israel’s multicultural society, it is the strife between Jews and Arabs that ranks strongest among those surveyed.
Indeed, the Democracy Index mirrors the issues our projects are addressing. We know through our work that distribution of health care is skewed towards Jewish villages over Arab ones, that funding per Arab student pales with that of her Jewish classmate.
Inequality stands in the way of a sustainable and thriving Israeli society. It hurts everyone.
On the earth’s surface, two lines side-by-side, in fact, do meet at the poles.
It is not with despair, however, that I have read through the Index and the progress reports from NIFC’s funding partners in Israel. The relations between Arabs and Jews are improving.
The Democracy Index also reports that:
*The percentage of Jews who support Arab emigration from Israel is steadily declining.
*In 2013 compared with just two years ago, twice as many people “strongly disagreed” that societal decisions like housing, employment, and healthcare should be made by a Jewish majority.
*Tolerance for a shared neighbourhood has jumped for both Arab and Jewish families (the percentage of Arab respondents who would live alongside Jewish families has more than tripled since 2010).
*Nearly three-quarters of Jews believe in Israel’s dual identity as both Jewish and democratic.
Transforming a 2-D paper into a 3-D sphere
In today’s Israel, activism, research, hope, and a long-term investment in social change can unite disparate groups. New Israel Fund of Canada remains committed to helping make impact in this area. How? Here are some ways:
*An investment in capacity-building among grassroots organizations by NIFC-funded Shatil in Jewish and Arab villages to ensure that local experts have the tools to address local problems.
Meaningful interaction among Arabs and Jews – frequently and towards a shared goal.
*A long-term view towards areas of impact within Israeli society, reflected in the mission and methodology of New Israel Fund of Canada.
For nearly 30 years, New Israel Fund of Canada has been behind initiatives that result in social change. Thirty years is not enough to eradicate the gap between Arab and Jew in Israel. It is enough, however, to understand that transformation is possible.
Eventually, parallel lines on a globe meet at the poles.
Bosmat Nakash and her family immigrated to Israel from Iraq just before the Six Day War. Among the changes she experienced in her new country was a more tolerant attitude toward her disability.
During pregnancy, Bosmat’s mother took medication later linked to severe birth defects, and Bosmat was born disabled. But with the support of her loving family, Bosmat graduated high school, earned a BA in Middle East and African Studies from Tel Aviv University, and climbed the ladder at the Bezeq Telecommunications Company from clerk to unit head.
In her retirement, Bosmat began what she calls “chapter two” of her life.
Bosmat is a participant of the fourth round of a pioneering course that has launched her on a new career path, enabled her to become proactive about her needs – and the needs of those in her community – and has broadened her horizons. Most of all, it changed the way she sees herself.
The course is funded by NIFC and is a joint initiative of SHATIL and the David Yellin College of Education, bringing together physically, emotionally, or mentally disabled people and special education students, training them to become activists. The sixth round of the course began this month.
Bosmat says none of the changes she experienced would have been possible without one fundamental shift: Her awareness of her own relationship to her disability changed. “The course was extraordinary,” she said. “It was experiential and it touched me deeply.”
“In the course, we had guest speakers every session and I learned from their successes,” she said. “Abbas Abbas, a blind man who founded an NGO to help other blind Arab Israelis, left a very strong impression on me. He said he had been in denial for years about his disability but then used this denial as a springboard for action. I was inspired. I realized I too had been in denial — but had been unaware of it. The course taught me to accept myself as I am. It’s a simple but profound change.”
“One of the main goals of the course is to develop an initiative that will help others. One day, three of us women were sitting together and one wrote the acronym of our three names and it came out: ‘husband.’ It clicked! We decided to develop a workshop about couples relationships for men and women with disabilities. The course facilitators helped us develop a work plan and we hope to soon begin a pilot.
“The idea for the couples relationships workshop came out of my own need. I’m 58 and I still have not found a partner in life. We know there is much need and demand for something like this.”
Meanwhile, Bosmat is continuing to work on this initiative through “A Home for the Social Entrepreneur,” set up by David Yellin for course graduates to continue the work begun during the course. Through the Home, Bosmat met social worker Nirit Rimon, who was working on initiating the same social change and disabilities course at Sapir Academic College in Sderot. Impressed with what she saw, Nirit offered Bosmat a paid position as co-facilitator of the new course – a step in a new professional direction for Bosmat.
“It was extraordinary experience,” says Bosmat at the end of the first year of the Sapir course. “We had 22 participants – 11 social work students and 11 people with special needs – and four initiatives came out of the course. Five participants are working on an initiative called “To see the Person,” aimed at getting employers to see an individual job applicant beyond his or her disability. They plan to accomplish this through a documentary film to be produced by Sapir College film students.
“I was happy to participate in leading this course because the subject – changing society’s perception of the disabled person — is so important. Accessibility is not just about ramps. It’s accessibility to life. And if it begins in the colleges, it will seep into the general population. I have no doubt that just like physical accessibility, this will catch on everywhere.”
Dozens of Arab and Jewish fans met before the opening match of Israel’s new soccer season to prepare anti-racism banners. The fans of Hapoel Tel Aviv and from the Arab city of Sakhnin also discussed the need for shared society and tolerance. The fans’ banners were prevalent in the stands as the players came onto the field wearing “Football for All” shirts in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. The players then kicked “Respect” balls, donated by the Union of European Football Associations, into the crowd.
The events were organized by NIF’s Kick It Out (KIO) campaign in partnership with the Israel Football Association (IFA) and with the support of Israeli Police and the Ministry of Sport as well as the HAADUMIM – Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Fans Association and the Bnei Sakhnin Fans Association.
The NIF campaign is currently marking 10 years of activities, during which racism in Israeli soccer has been drastically reduced. Sunday’s event also attracted significant media attention in Israel including coverage in two of Israel’s most popular websites, Y-Net and One.
Last Sunday’s event was part of a new campaign for the 2013/14 season in which KIO Israel will encourage fans themselves to take pro-active efforts to combat racism and to prepare banners to be displayed in stadiums.
As the campaign enters a new year, a new season, and its second decade, NIF hopes to continue and strengthen its impact in fighting racism and promoting joint living between Jews and Arabs, new immigrants, and veteran Israelis.
When NIFC- funded SHATIL first began its work in Haifa, its goal was not to establish a mixed city – a city of different people and identities. That already existed. Instead, it set out to create a shared city, a place where all of its residents felt a sense of belonging and had a say in the shaping of the city.
For five years, the project mapped existing projects, reached out to and built partnerships with key citizens, and developed practical recommendations for creating a shared society in Haifa. The recommendations, compiled in a book published last fall and funded in part by NIFC, span areas as diverse as urban planning, culture, inter-communal relations, and business.
As the next step, SHATIL – along with partners Beit Hagefen, Maarag, and the Community Services Department – recently created the Haifa Center for Dialogue and Conflict Management. The center aims to help Haifa’s residents and institutions manage inter-communal conflicts through dialogue, prevent conflicts from escalating, and help build a shared society in Haifa.
On September 1st, Yaron Levin, the Center’s coordinator, sat down for the first time at his new desk in the Haifa Department of Community Services. Haifa’s willingness to support the Center and provide a home for it demonstrates an unprecedented level of commitment to the pursuit of a shared society.
“To develop the ability in the city to solve conflict in a nonviolent way, to build the capacity among organizations and in the community, will contribute tremendously to the core of what it means to be a shared society,” Levin says. “SHATIL has been one of the partners from the very beginning, and of course the vision of a shared society is very much part of the DNA of the center.”
In addition to the opening of the center, the influence of the project is taking hold elsewhere. For example, Haifa City Museum’s current exhibit about the Hadar neighborhood includes a number of exhibits which are either the result of or relate to the project’s recommendations for multi-cultural events. One of the museum rooms includes flyers and political publications distributed by the Haifa Shared City Program. On another door, a text written by a member of the SHATIL-organized “Creating the Haifa Story Group” speaks of the city’s complex history and its Arab and Jewish communities. A text written by Prof. Rachel Kallush, a member of the Haifa Shared City Program Steering Committee, relates to the urban renewal plans in Haifa, and calls for them to take into consideration the fact that the city should be a shared one.
Haifa’s support for the Center along with the museum exhibits show how the shared society language has become a part of the mainstream.
A Canadian perspective on Israel
This past Sunday, I joined a dynamic room of supporters in Ottawa. Symposium speaker Mira Sucharov challenged the crowd. “Is there such a thing as Jewish values?” At first taken aback, participants responded. Chesed, Tikkun Olam, critical thinking, justice and also the best and worst of feeling chosen.
New Israel Fund of Canada has just completed a tour of major cities across Canada. How do those values offered in Ottawa impact Israel’s democracy? What changes when democracy lives in a place like Israel? The title of NIFC’s Third Annual Symposium was: “Meeting the Challenge: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State.”
As with previous symposia, these events shifted the lens we use to analyze societal progress.
Right as our event in Ottawa wrapped up, a participant revealed why he comes to our events. Discussions like these, he said, uncover the levers of change behind trends he witnesses in Israel. “This makes me think twice and maybe three times about some of my most basic assumptions.”
Equally compelling was an underlying theme I traced at every event: the importance of a Canadian perspective in understanding domestic issues in Israel.
In addition to the event in Ottawa, Symposia were held in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. NIFC also partnered with law schools to tackle issues of civil rights using a cross-cultural lens. At McGill and Osgoode Law Schools, Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of NIFC-funded ACRI (Association of Civil Rights in Israel), engaged with students and faculty on the parallels between cases ACRI has challenged and current issues in Canada.
How might Israeli law respond to Quebec’s Charter of Values? What sensitivity do Canadians feel toward Bedouin relocation given First Nations experiences in this country?
“Make The Case” was an event presented by NIFC’s New Generations group for Canadians under 40. Asked to step into the shoes of Israeli civil rights lawyers, participants prepared a case for and against a Haredi military draft. Were our lawyers-for-a-night onto something? According to Hagai, an issue occupying politicians for years took young Canadians only 90 minutes to argue in full.
Which leads me to reflect on the unique, the creative, the thoughtful, and the exceptionally valuable perspective Canadians lend to social justice issues in Israel. It is with the tools from our social history that equip Canadians to wrestle with issues of multiculturalism, multilingualism, equality and fairness, particularism, and civil liberties in Israel.
Over the past week, I met hundreds of Canadians from all walks of life. Together, they grappled with the toughest questions facing Israeli society. In so doing, they also offered a point of view to these enduring conversations uniquely informed by their own country’s past.
Thank you to those who came to our events. Thank you to our speakers, our volunteers, our partners in every city, our staff, and our donors who made this past week such a success.
Asaf Weitzen, 34, is a lawyer with Hotline for Migrant Workers, one of the petitioners in the historic Supreme Court case challenging the Anti- Infiltration Law, which incarcerated more than 2000 African refugees without due process or recourse to the possibility of asylum. Following the verdict, NIF spoke to him to get his reaction to the landmark victory.
How did this case end up at the Supreme Court?
Israel has been dealing with the issue of asylum seekers for a long time. You can detain people who can be legally deported, but deporting genuine asylum seekers would be a violation of international and Israeli law. Because you can’t deport people coming from Eritrea and Sudan, the
government wanted to deter other people by detaining them. They created the Anti-Infiltration Law, which is basically a newer version of a law from 1954 created to deal with security issues, with the main clause stating that you can detain people for a minimum of three years without putting them on trial. This is what we petitioned against. We said that the law does not meet the Basic Laws’ right to freedom and right to dignity, and should be overturned by the Supreme Court. In a very rare move, the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) joined the petition as amicus curie.
Were you always confident with the outcome?
No. From a legal point of view the case was clear. But you can never be sure, especially when you’re dealing with something that’s so politically sensitive. There is a lot of political pressure on the Supreme Court, and today it’s relatively restrained when it comes to parliamentary law. The fact that the sentence was so unequivocal shows just how offensive, unconstitutional and undignified this law was.
Will lots of people be released now?
We hope that those detained under the law will be released in the next few weeks. But the story isn’t over yet. Right-wing politicians condemned the ruling – they want to create a new law with a different time limit. Everyone needs to read the ruling clearly. Some of the judges said a shorter detention might be considered; others said that you couldn’t detain people in order to deter others from coming. We hope that politicians from across the political spectrum will come together and think how to ease the problems of the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv [An area of endemic poverty where most asylum seekers live] and the difficulties faced by the asylum seekers, rather than making things worse with new versions of the anti-infiltration law.
How did it feel?
When I started reading the sentence I began to cry, and I haven’t cried for a long time. I thought about all the people Hotline represents. Some of them have been in prison for a year, some of them are victims of rape – each time I visited them in prison they asked when they would be released and why they hadn’t been put on trial; it was very difficult for me to think about them like that. To think about all those people who will hopefully be released in the next few weeks makes me very happy. I’m also very happy as an Israeli citizen – even in difficult times, there are people who remain true to what is just, without giving in to dangerous political trends. It reinforces our faith in the path we’ve chosen – fighting for what we believe in, and strengthening civil society. This decision should be a wake-up call for the government, an opportunity for them to help build a better society, and not just another reason to attack the Supreme Court.
Responses from Asylum Seekers:
Moatomis Ali (Asylum Seeker from Darfur): “This law isn’t connected to the situation facing refugees in Israel. The problem is that that Israel doesn’t take care of refugees. We live here without basic rights, and they don’t check our story to see if we’re entitled to asylum or not. I have many friends who have been jailed because of the Law. It’s a good feeling for them, to be leaving jail, but they still know what will happen to them once they get out. I was also freed but it’s illegal for me to work and they call me an infiltrator, a work migrant and a criminal.”
Davit Demoz (Asylum Seeker from Eritrea): “I’m happy that the law has been cancelled; it’s not logical to put people in jail for more than a year without a release date. These people went through difficult experiences in their countries and on the way to Israel. But, when they’re freed and thrown out by the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, we don’t know what will happen to them. We escaped from a dictatorship in order to live a secure and free life. It’s not right that the only options for refugees are to live on the streets or go to jail.”
Following Im Tirtzu’s outrageous and personal smear campaign against the New Israel Fund and progressive organizations in Israel in 2010, a group of eight activists began a facebook page called ‘Im Tirtzu is a Fascist movement.’ Alleging that the term “fascist” constituted libel, and in an undisguised attempt to shut down criticism of their goals and activities, Im Tirtzu took the activists to court. And lost. Following the Jerusalem District Court’s ruling last week, which rejected almost all charges against the activists and which characterized Im Tirtzu as having “fascist attributes” NIF spoke to defendant Edan Ring about his reactions to the victory.
How did you get involved in the Facebook group?
Back then I was working as a spokesperson for several human rights groups. I was appalled by the campaign against Naomi Chazan and the rest of the organization. One day the “Im Tirtzu is a Fascist movement” group appeared in my Facebook feed; a few days later, the founder of the group, Roi Yellin, made me one of the administrators of the page, because he thought I would help get more followers. In total there were eight of us. The page was a huge success – thousands of people joined the group because of their outrage over Im Tirtzu’s behavior. A while later, the group’s administrators all got a message from Im Tirtzu saying they would sue us if we didn’t change the name.
What did you think of Im Tirtzu’s reaction?
I was very surprised. I had no legal experience, I had never been to court, and I was very alarmed. At first I didn’t respond. I didn’t think they would really go through with it. It’s not like we had published a huge ad like they did – I mean, look what they did with Naomi Chazan! I
checked with the others – they were also ignoring it. After a few months, I received a letter from a lawyer’s office in Jerusalem saying I was being sued for 2.6 million shekels. It was a terrible feeling. From then, it really affected the way I expressed myself on Facebook and other social networks. It made me very cautious and hesitant. All the time I was thinking that someone was looking at me. It was very frightening. But when we met our amazing lawyers, my feelings changed. It was clear that we weren’t going to change the name of the group.
Were you worried during the court case?
I knew they wouldn’t win – they were in the wrong. But they tried to make life difficult for us. We all live in Tel Aviv, but they filed the complaint in Jerusalem, and they made it for NIS2.6 million so the case would go to the district court. We had to travel to Jerusalem for every meeting, and we lost a lot of working hours. We also worked hard on the case ourselves, doing research on Im Tirtzu and the things they’ve said and written. We all wanted to build a strong case, and I think we succeeded.
How do you feel now?
On the one hand, I’m really happy with the outcome. They tried to hurt us. Their aim was to intimidate us into stop criticizing them, and to send a message to other people not to mess with them. But we won. There’s a big buzz around the case. We didn’t dream that we could make a judge in Israel say that it’s OK to call Im Tirtzu fascists. A lot of people know they sent private investigators to look into the garbage cans of NGOs and human rights groups, a real witch-hunt. But I’m not completely happy and calm, because the case still might go to the Supreme Court.
Thankfully, we had incredible support, both from NIF and the Moriah Fund, but also from hundreds of people who donated small amounts to support our case. If the case goes to the Supreme Court, we’ll have to get their help again.
The program’s impact in some of the 100 participants’ own words:
Amal, 21, from Hura, who now dreams of seeing a Bedouin woman Knesset member: “I learned to express my voice and make it heard.”
Samaar, 20, from Rahat, who now wants to see Bedouin women “liberated from all forms of oppression” and “taking on leadership positions infused with socio-political awareness:” “It made me wonder and ask questions such as, ‘Why don’t we make our voices heard? Why aren’t we involved? Why aren’t we changing things?’ I felt our strength and the feminine power that can alter our reality.”
Aza, 22, from the unrecognized village of Kesr El Ser, who now dreams of a day when there won’t be “control over women’s lives:” “I was introduced to the world through this program…. Now I’m more audacious, and I can stand up and insist on my rights.”
In 2009, NIFC-funded SHATIL and key partners launched a unique and ambitious multi-year initiative to empower Bedouin women. Partners in the initiative included the US Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and the Sebba Foundation.
Organized into two phases, the project aimed to create a new cadre of leadership in the Bedouin community that would impact the lives of the participants’ peers, families, and communities, while maintaining respect for traditional Bedouin social norms.And now we’re already starting to see results: An increase in women’s leadership and participation in public life; a change in the discourse including in the media; fissures in the glass ceiling for domains that were previously male-only. We also see other firsts: We hired and trained the first Bedouin woman lobbyist, held the first ever Bedouin Women’s Spokespersons’ training, and saw Negev Bedouin women organizing demonstrations against injustice for the first time.
As program participants did things they never did before, they got other women to follow, creating a ripple effect. One group of program graduates held workshops for working women about their rights and published an accompanying booklet in Arabic. Another is organizing women in the village of El Sere and helping them secure employment.
Two participants initiated and planned a recognition march that attracted 200 people and media attention; one was elected to be a student council representative; another organized a pre-election candidates’ panel at her college; several spoke publicly for the first time in their lives — at a conference about the status of women in Arab society, at a public gathering about how the Bedouin can influence government policy and at demonstrations; one has become her community’s spokesperson for the foreign press; one joined a protest against honor killings – something she would not have dared to consider before the training — and seven are working on the projects developed during the program that involve additional women in their communities.
SHATIL also reached out to scores of male and female high school and college students in a Round Table Project in partnership with NIF grantee Ma’an, the Forum of Arab Women’s Organizations in the Negev. In addition to raising awareness, the project encouraged the students to explore and question issues of women’s rights and status. Minds were opened. Said Abdelwadud, a male college student: “At the Round Tables, I found I could say whatever I want. No one said, ‘don’t talk like this.’ I want changes – the most basic things – to give women the right to study…”
In a fitting end to the program, the graduation ceremony was transformed into a public seminar on the role of Bedouin women in the public sphere — one of the first times Bedouin women, and Bedouin men – including mayors, heads of religious organizations, etc. – came together to discuss these types of issues together and in an open atmosphere. “The seminar marked the end of the MEPI project, but the beginning of a new discourse in the Negev Bedouin community,” summarized Project coordinator, Rina Okby. “We are making a revolution.” You can see great images from the seminar on Channel I in Arabic.
A new Alternative Young Bedouin Leadership Group emerged from the program which is working, with SHATIL guidance, to lead the Negev Bedouin in new directions. Kifah, 22 from Segev Shalom summarizes many participants’ experience:”To feel that you can – not everyone can give you this feeling. I got the message from SHATIL …that I can.”
In a few weeks, New Israel Fund of Canada will host a series of events that tackle one of the foremost issues facing Israel in the 21st Century. How does Israel meet the challenge of its Declaration of Independence to be both a Jewish and democratic state?
I have foisted this topic on our Shabbat guests and hosts over the past several months. To the question of, “How do Jewish values challenge Israel as a democratic state?”, I have been flooded by fluent responses. At one dinner, I received no fewer than 30 ready-made answers from eight people around the table.
To the opposing question, “How do Jewish values strengthen Israel?”, eyebrows have more likely been furled. People have taken the opportunity to sip from their glasses. Pauses have been left pregnant.
Around our Rosh Hashanah table just a few days ago, the question was posed in yet another way: “How can Jewish values actually lend further strength to a state governed by democracy?” “Can Israel possibly aspire towards a healthier society than, say, Canada or the United States, both of which have but democracy to lean on?”
As we prepare to listen to experts on the subject (in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver – register now at www.nifcan.org!), I would like to share some strands of my discussions for consideration:
1. Democracy alone does not look after the type of communal network that Jewish values can naturally project. A central distinction between democracy and Jewish values is democracy’s focus on individualism. Not so with Judaism. Shabbat is one example where this is played out in Israel today. In Israel, for observant Jews and for everyone else, Shabbat as a day of rest is an opportunity to slow down, to spend time with family, and to inquire after one’s neighbours.
Now is the time to point out that other societies and systems can furnish this type of communal resource. In Gambia, for instance, Global Volunteer Day requires that all citizens take a day off from work to better their country through civil service for a day. Labour rights, too, protect communal and family life in many countries around the world.
Another counterargument. The other components of Shabbat, ones that limit free expression and can discriminate based on religious observance and gender challenge social cohesiveness that, some argue, outweigh Shabbat’s societal benefits.
2. Jewish values support human rights in ways that democracy alone does not. Shmita, or, the practice of letting one’s field lie fallow once every seven years, was instituted, in part, to provide sustenance to the poor. Indeed, as a principle, charity is a central component of Jewish values. For a society, this means a social safety net for all residents.
Of course, nations like Brazil, Sweden, and Canada ensure levels of economic and social aid without an institutionalized set of Jewish values to guide them.
Moreover, Jewish laws regarding animal sacrifice, a male-centred divorce ritual, homosexuality, and others can be used to refute the power of Jewish values to protect of human rights.
3. Democracy alone cannot translate into a system of government for a country so entrenched in Jewish identity. Jewish values offer a common vocabulary Israel’s citizens. Recognizable concepts and traditions underlie foundational principles of a society like justice and fairness, for instance.
Yet, the ways in which Jewish values are interpreted by subgroups in Israel challenge the notion of a common language. Further, Israel’s non-Jewish population may not be as receptive to the intrinsic commonalities offered by Jewish-based societal laws.
These are only three points that attempt to support the strength of Israel’s dual governing values. Beyond that, it is the conversation behind these points that grip me. How are we defining the Jewish values underlying our discussions? What does the question itself mean for us as Diaspora Jews and what is our voice?
I invite you to join in the discussion online and at our upcoming events. Looking forward to speaking – online and in person – soon.
New Israel Fund of Canada
Our greatest prophet stood on a mountaintop at the end of a decades long journey and looked towards the Promised Land. Looked, but never entered. We read the verses of the parasha and the image draws itself in front of our very eyes, and the image touches our hearts. Mozes on Mt. Nebo is one of the most captivating, moving images in our tradition. A defining moment at the conclusion of a people’s journey, and at the same time a deeply personal time and space.
It is a moment of ending: not only the end of the great journey of the entire nation, but also the end of a great life. And this ending is something to reflect on, something that indeed we are foretold to reflect on, as it is also an ending for each and every one of us – the ending of the reading of the Torah, the last verses that we read before the cycle begins anew.
For the reading of the Torah ends not with the conquest of a land or with the building of a temple, nor with any other action of similar nature. The final words that we read are those that portray Mozes, in that deeply personal moment of vision, agony, shock, realization, and never ending longing.
But afterwards, we begin once again to read the Torah. The cycle continues. And this is how we end the cycle of the reading the Torah, and this is how we begin anew.
And so we are left to wonder: is it really an end? if it is an end and also a beginning at the same time, then what is, in fact, an end – and what is a beginning? when, anyhow, is really the end? is the end really final and is the beginning really the start? And we wonder further, as the end and the beginning not only flow in time from one to the other, but also as they come intimately close in space: for geographically Mozes’ ending came as close as possible to the beginning of the next chapter – but as close as the end was to the beginning, as clear as one could see the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo, he did not enter.
These questions are familiar to us all from our own life experiences: endings and beginnings in our life and how one leads to the next; getting closer and closer to a promise yet not seeing it fulfilled; striving to begin anew even when the work is never quite done.
And these thoughts and emotions are familiar to anyone involved in the struggle for justice and human rights. We strive to realize justice. We strive to achieve equality. The work goes on and on. We never quite make it. The work is not done. Will we ever see the realization of social justice in our lifetime? Will all human beings ever live a life of full equality in society? Will unjust structural realities that have become so entrenched will ever be uprooted? Will refugees and asylum seekers ever be welcomed with the generosity and compassion that they deserve? When will racism be defeated? All these questions, and many more, remain and linger.
We do not know the answer to any of these questions. And that human aspect too is found in our parasha, for Mozes as well, so it seems, did not know what would happen in the end. Will they ever make it out of the desert? Would he, or anyone, ever reach the Promised Land? this was unknown, and yet he persevered and continued towards the fulfillment of the promise.
Of course, we also do not know our own future. But this much we know: that the cycle continues. That we reach the end of the year and then, G-d willing, we will begin to read the Torah again from the beginning. Indeed, that much we do know.
So we continue to strive towards the realization of the promise. The mountain will be climbed again and again, as many times as needed. We know that eventually we will go back and read the Torah again, and again, and again.
The name of the parashah is V’zot HaBracha, “This is the blessing.” And perhaps this is indeed the blessing: the realization that the work is never done. The realization that the journey in and of itself counts, together with the lasting commitment to continue striving towards the realization of the promise.
Rabbi Tarfon teaches us precisely this in Pirkei Avot: “It is not upon you to complete the work, nor may you exempt yourself from it.” So withstanding frustration, pessimism, and worse – we all have the moral duty not to exempt ourselves and to be a part of Tikkun Olam, to take part in working for justice, human rights, and equality. That realization is one of a human scale. As such, it empowers human beings to face challenges that are beyond our modest scales. We might have opted to excuse ourselves, or may have otherwise been intimidated or desperate.
But we are not exempt. Not even when we see the Promised Land and are told that we will not get there, we are not exempt. Nor if we do not even see a Promised Land, we are not exempt. Nor even if all we know is that the cycle will continue, we are not exempt. This realization, this end that is also a beginning, is at the same time both modest and humane. It makes us go forward. It is a blessing.
Hagai El-Ad is the Executive Director of NIFC-funded ACRI: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel
“The focus in other feminist organizations was on glass ceilings in big companies and the Israel Defense Forces,” says Shula Keshet recalling why she founded NIFC-funded Achoti-Sister for Women in Israel in 1999. “But most of the women who are suffering in Israel aren’t even close to the glass ceiling. Achoti provides an alternative.”
Keshet was inspired to become an activist by her grandmother, Hana Kalaty. As a new immigrant from Iran, she established the House of Mothers to provide for the needs of poor women in south Tel Aviv. Using the model of the JNF’s blue box, the group raised money to help women, gave interest-free loans, and in the 1950s set up community centers. Keshet visited these places as a young girl. “It was the first time I understood the importance of feminist, Mizrachi, communal activism,” she reflects. More than 50 years later, by establishing a center for Achoti in South Tel Aviv, Shula closed the circle.
With the glass ceiling so far away for most of its clientele, Achoti focuses on basics. The organization was founded in 2000, and is now active throughout Israel. “It’s a very unique organization that struggles for equality using activism and creativity.”
Achoti’s focus is on empowering women through economic initiatives. Among its many projects, Women Cooking Up a Business was the organization’s first initiative, a women’s catering business in Jerusalem. Today the organization runs communal kitchens in Jerusalem together with partners Kol Ha’isha and Ehete center in Kiryat Gat for Ethiopian women, as well as Israel’s first Fair Trade store, which is located in Tel Aviv. They also run courses to help women set up their own businesses.
The Achoti House in south Tel Aviv is located in what Keshet calls “one of the toughest neighborhoods in Israel.” It’s the center of clashes between veteran residents and African asylum seekers. The neighborhood is blighted by drugs and prostitution, and the infrastructure is neglected by the municipality. “The situation of women in the neighborhood is even more difficult,” Keshet says. “When you’re in distress even a small thing can help.”
Achoti activists try to help local women as much as they can, for example a single mother who wasn’t receiving the child payments she was entitled to because of a bureaucratic oversight. Another example is that of a woman who was going to be thrown out of her home because of a $550 debt. The activists organized an event to raise money for her. Achoti also supports the Power to the Community initiative, which brings veteran residents and African asylum seekers together for what Shula calls “the impossible meetings.”
Achoti House also has a cultural focus. In 2009 the My Heart is in the East coalition was established to confront the neglect of Mizrachi and Arabic culture in Israel. Studies show that 90% of the current culture budget goes towards teaching Euro-centric and Western art. The coalition, of which Achoti is an active part, works to confront this imbalance through cultural initiatives of its own.
In response to Tel Aviv’s White Night celebration, which neglected the south of the city, Achoti organized Black Night highlighting local women and Mizrachi artists. Unfortunately, the police came and closed down the event, during which time a woman was sexually assaulted and the windows of Achoti House were smashed in. “The authorities treat the residents of poor neighborhoods like criminals,” Shula says, before noting that one of the policeman had called the center a “ticking bomb.”
In 2007, Haaretz’s financial newspaper The Marker chose Keshet as one of Israel’s 40 most influential women for social change. She won the NCJW Jewel Bellush Israeli Feminist award in 2011 and this year she was one of 10 women given the Rappaport Le’Isha magazine award for being about change.
It’s clear that the combination of culture and political activism is a potent combination. Achoti is providing vital support to some of the most neglected communities in Israel. Keshet’s grandmother would be proud of her.
In a precedent-setting decision, the Tel Aviv Labor Court has ordered Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to pay Michel Malka NIS 50,000 ($14,000) in compensation for discrimination in hiring. Malka was represented by NIF funded Tmura: The Legal Center for the Prevention of Discrimination and New Discourse (The Democratic Mizrahi Rainbow).
In 2008, Malka, a Mizrachi Israeli, applied to the government-operated IAI’s emergency medicine department for a job as a paramedic. When he phoned to inquire about his application, department head Gil-Ron Baron told him that the job had been filled.
But Malka’s friend who worked at IAI told him that the company was still interviewing candidates. Moreover, when Malka’s friend Michael Goldenshluger, an Ashkenazi, confronted Baron on the subject, Baron said, “What kind of thug have you brought me to work?” and he used the Hebrew slang “ars,” a derogatory term (which translates more or less to “greaser”) directed at Jews of Middle Eastern descent.
Malka reapplied under the name Meir Malkieli and was immediately invited for an interview. Despite Baron’s insistence that the jobs had been filled and the successful candidates had then withdrawn, Judge Sigal Davidow Motola ruled in favor of Malka citing a violation of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law of 1988.
Eyal Sternberg, Malka’s attorney and co-Chair of Tmura said, “This is the first ruling of its kind in Israel, in which a labor court recognizes discrimination based on Mizrachi origin.”
Malka said, “I was stunned to learn that a huge public company like the IAI would discriminate against people over their ethnic background. I truly felt like my honor had been trampled over. I’m happy that the outcome serves the greater good.”
At a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, once again, taking center stage, it is easy to forget that the impetus behind Israel’s recent parliamentary elections was an economic one. And a SHATIL-led Forum has had a significant impact on the recent federal budget, rendering it more progressive in terms of both spending and revenue.
Last October, facing public demand for social change and fearful of the political backlash likely to follow planned spending cuts and tax hikes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections, rather than reach agreement with his coalition partners on an austerity budget.
In the period since the Prime Minister’s decision, NIFC-funded SHATIL has led a collaborative effort to transform the way Israeli politicians approach fiscal policymaking. The Social Budget Forum, a broad SHATIL-coordinated coalition of more than 30 social change organizations, many of which are NIF grantees, launched a campaign aimed at persuading politicians to take social objectives into account before voting on a financial plan that would burden countless Israelis.
In addition to coordinating the Forum, SHATIL staff also coordinated its four workgroups, led media and advocacy campaigns, employed innovative lobbying techniques and facilitated cooperation between member organizations. SHATIL was also able to contribute its knowledge and experience working with underprivileged groups, such as Ethiopian immigrants, to highlight the negative impact the budget would have on these communities.
In the run-up to the elections, NIF provided funds to Forum members for three conferences; and as the new government began deliberating its financial plan, NIF provided two additional emergency grants to organizations opposing the government’s plan to reduce child tax breaks.
“We realized that the deficit posed a substantial challenge and that the government had no choice but to make difficult decisions,” SHATIL consultant Eran Klein noted. “However, we were adamant that these decisions be the least harmful to Israel’s underprivileged citizens.”
In the period leading up to the elections, the Forum urged candidates to present detailed financial plans for which they could be held accountable. And prior to the budget vote, activists put enormous pressure on political representatives, organizing conferences in the Knesset, conducting an online campaign, and publishing policy papers.
Last Tuesday, the Knesset voted to approve a national budget for the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years. Although the final version of the budget is far from perfect, it does include a number of important modifications that can be attributed to the Forum’s work. The government agreed to create additional income tax brackets, cancel tax hikes on healthcare and housing, and cancel plans to raise social security rates for homemakers. To compensate for these decisions a number of revenue- generating alternatives, such as the Forum’s proposal to increase corporate tax rates, were adopted.
In addition to the progressive tax modifications, the Forum succeeded in instilling a new approach to budgetary legislation. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have recognized the importance of setting measurable social objectives as part of the legislative process. In fact, Meir Cohen, Israel’s Welfare Minister and an important member of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, is chairing a new parliamentary committee established to set future social objectives. Looking forward, NIF/SHATIL will continue building on the Social Budget Forum’s work so that in 2015 Israel’s budget will truly reflect the social needs of its citizens.
Critics asked, What do Indyk’s NIF connections say about his commitment to a Zionist future? Actually, quite a lot.
What started out as a message of congratulations has now transformed into a reflection of organizational strength and integrity. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
First, to the primary business at hand.
Mazal tov to New Israel Fund board member Martin Indyk on his appointment as United States representative for current peace talks in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Vice President at the Brookings Institution, a leading think-tank in Washington, DC, Indyk brings expertise, rigor, and a keen understanding of the difficulties manifest in the process.
In his endorsement, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, said of Indyk, “He knows what has worked, and he knows what hasn’t worked. And he knows how important it is to get this right.”
Having now resigned his post as NIF board member in preparation for the role, Indyk nonetheless takes with him an acute sensitivity to all Israelis, one that is inherent in the mission that NIF, and New Israel Fund of Canada, strongly espouse.
And, now, for the unanticipated post-script to this message.
While Indyk was being vetted as a candidate for U.S. envoy, calls for reconsideration were made based on Indyk’s leadership role at NIF. In the process, the integrity of NIF was called into question.
Critics asked, What do Indyk’s NIF connections say about his commitment to a Zionist future?
In fact, Indyk’s role at NIF makes him uniquely attuned to the complexity of Israeli society. Further, NIF’s impacts on equality and freedom within Israel demonstrate the possibilities of lasting change.
Having once considered making Aliyah because of what he described as “my Jewish identity and connection to Israel”, Indyk was a student in Israel when the Yom Kippur War erupted in 1973. Since then, his life has been marked by a strongly-felt duty to Israel.
His career encompasses founding the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, primary author of U.S. President Clinton’s Middle East strategy, and, before resigning, a top role at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Says the Jewish Daily Forward, “Martin Indyk’s life story is closely intertwined with that of the pro-Israel community and with Israel itself. “
The endorsements of Kerry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. President Barak Obama reflected an answer to critics both clear and strong. It is Indyk’s profound insight into the dynamics of – and potential in – a diverse Israeli society that reinforces his commitment to lasting peace.
New Israel Fund of Canada
Shira Herzog on ACRI’s Impact
NIFC Executive Director Orit Sarfaty sat down with NIF International Council member Shira Herzog to learn about upcoming NIFC Fall Symposium speaker, Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
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About Shira Herzog
Shira Herzog is a member of New Israel Fund’s International Council. She is past president of The Kahanoff Foundation, which was active in Israel over three decades and partnered with the New Israel Fund in various areas of social change, including immigrant youth at risk, religious pluralism, minorities and capacity building for grassroots groups. Shira is also an Israel-affairs columnist with The Globe and Mail.
What is your relationship with ACRI?
From personal interest and through my tenure as president of The Kahanoff Foundation, my relationship with ACRI goes back nearly 30 years. I have been interested in “infrastructure organizations” that maintain fundamental planks of Israeli democracy. Among these, ACRI stands out.
ACRI doesn’t deal with a single issue in civil rights, but acts on behalf of all prevailing human and civil rights issues. It epitomizes the “big tent” type of organization.
Years ago, I served on the board of CCLA (the Canadian Civil Liberties Association), which serves a similar function in Canada. There, I saw the ability of “big tent” organizations to address overarching issues of civil rights. Single issue constituencies often then spin off their own organizations, where the level of expertise becomes much focused. I don’t think that’s a bad thing—but my choice has been to focus on the broader perspective.
Tell me about Hagai El-Ad.
I’ve known Hagai since his tenure began at ACRI. He is succeeding several highly qualified CEO‘s who led ACRI for a period of 40 years. Hagai is different on two counts. First, he comes with experience as an open advocate in Israeli society, having been a leader in the LGBT movement there. Second, from an academic point of view, he has a background in astrophysics.
On the face of it, moving from science into civil rights advocacy is a big leap!
It’s unusual for an individual to bring such a broad horizon of societal forces as well as a rigorous mind. Hagai combines rigorous analysis and strong passion.
How is Israel different as a result of ACRI?
I think if there was no ACRI in Israel, it would have to have been invented. ACRI’s is the kind of voice that must be heard in any democratic society. And given the preferential treatment of Jewish residents and citizens over others in some areas as well as the burden of national security, Israel has a particular need for a group like ACRI. In that environment, it is important to stand apart as an advocate for equality among all Israeli citizens and those who are denied access to their rights by law.
ACRI also benefits from some unique aspects of Israeli society. The Israeli Supreme Court often sits as a High Court of Justice rather than as a Court of Appeal. Any citizen or organization can apply directly to the Court to challenge government policy based on existing laws and constitutional rights. Much of ACRI’s legal work is done through this tool.
ACRI is also a forerunner of education on civil rights. They have advised the police, social workers, community leaders, and others about what civil rights mean in their work and as such, have created greater sensitivity to the civil rights discourse and practice.
What challenges does the organization face?
ACRI faces the same challenges that all civil rights groups face in democratic societies. When you’re a big tent organization, you can’t satisfy everyone.
An additional challenge (that we have seen throughout western democracies in the last decade) – the challenge of reconciling national security and individual rights – is front and center. Within Israel, there is a particularly high value placed on security, national service, and the military that tends to override human rights.
What are the underpinnings of civil rights progress in Israel today? Where does the potential lie?
For social change generally, you need a combination of top-down and ground-up movement. You also need a legal basis for change. Furthermore, you need a certain political environment that can be amenable to change.
There was a law proposed recently that would give employment and housing preference to Israelis who previously served in the military. Think about the communities that would be naturally excluded from this group – Haredim, immigrants, the disabled, Arab-Israelis. ACRI is fighting this proposed law because of its potential for unequal treatment of Israelis across the spectrum.
What challenges are particular to Israel when it comes to civil rights? Does a lack of a formal constitution set limits to equality?
Even without an official constitution, Israel has basic laws with constitutional standing. And politics can be a barrier with or without a constitution. A government doesn’t have to listen if it doesn’t want to.
For Israel as with every country, there is probably a limit with respect to protection of civil rights, depending on a given nation’s particular idiosyncrasies and history. In Canada, for instance, we are engaged in an ongoing discussion regarding First Nations groups, the scope and limits of their rights.
To what extent are there parallels between Israel and Canada in terms of its civil right challenges?
The two countries have different systems of government that make it difficult to draw more specific parallels. Israel defines itself as an ethnocentric democracy. Its immigration laws demonstrate a preference for Jews. Canada is a parliamentary democracy, governed by a charter of rights and structured with enormous power to the provinces.
That said, both are strong democracies with non-governmental, charitable watch-dog organizations that monitor what could be called the “democratic index.” ACRI’s very existence and scope of activity in Israel attest to Israel’s strength as a democracy.
Let’s be clear about ACRI’s role. It exists not to make Israel a democracy. Rather, it makes sure it continues to be a democracy, an effective democracy.
What can Israel learn from Canada?
Like other countries, Israel can learn a lot from Canada. I have always believed that a country is measured by how it disagrees, not about how it agrees. For the most part, Canadians disagree quite well.
On the whole, Canada expresses a high degree of civility in its public discourse, is able to accommodate a broad spectrum of citizens’ backgrounds and Canadians demonstrate a high degree of tolerance. These are all admirable. Where they fit with any other country’s challenges and experience, they should be shared.
The subject of our Symposium this year explores the duality of values in Israel as a Jewish AND Democratic State.
How does an organization like ACRI successfully navigate these towards achieving civil rights for all Israelis?
ACRI works within current Israeli law. So, for instance, ACRI is not challenging Israel’s law of return which is a defining characteristic of a Jewish and democratic state.
What ACRI wants to do is to strengthen Israel’s given legal framework and ensure that all residents get their fair share. ACRI works to ensure that the democratic plank supporting Israel’s society is as strong as it can be.
SHATIL: Fighting Poverty in the Knesset
As part of its ongoing efforts to fight poverty, last week NIFC-supported SHATIL played a leading role in bringing together over two hundred community leaders with dozens of Knesset members to discuss ways to ensure that the national budget addresses the real needs of Israel’s people.
“We all did our army service, and our kids served; yet we’re left without food,” said one citizen on Wednesday, July 3rd, to the assembled group of lawmakers and NGO representatives.
Over one third of Israeli children live in poverty, according to the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute; and Israel has the highest poverty rate out of all OECD member nations. Proposed budget cuts to vital services would worsen this situation. For many social justice proponents, rising poverty and inequality represent a breakdown in social solidarity and a fundamental betrayal on the part of the government.
On Tuesday, July 2nd, the Forum to Combat Poverty, in which SHATIL plays an active role, hosted a Knesset conference to prevent the proposed cuts to child allowances. On Wednesday, the SHATIL-led Social Budget Forum hosted a similar conference on the broader social aspects of the budget. These gatherings drew a diverse group of participants: Jewish and Arab, religious and secular, old and young. Some were seasoned NGO representatives, while others were new to the forum. Some brought their children. Many spoke of personal experiences with poverty, adding a particular urgency to the fight to protect the vital government services that enable individuals and families to survive.
The gatherings provided citizens with a unique opportunity to speak directly to their representatives. Prominent Knesset members, including Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, attended one or both conferences. The second conference, moderated by MKs Gila Gamliel of Likud and Ilan Gilon of Meretz, drew a wide variety of Knesset Members from across the political spectrum, including both Coalition and opposition parties.
Many participants pointed out that the proposed budget cuts would particularly harm Israel’s most vulnerable groups. For instance, the Coalition-supported 2.7 billion shekel cut to the child
allowances program would push an additional 40,000 children below the poverty line. Eddie Gedalof, director of Lod Community Advocacy, explained that this measure would hurt women.”In many cases, government child allowances are the only portion of the family income that mothers directly control,” he said. Thus, a reduction in the child allowances decreases not only a family’s income, but a mother’s financial independence as well.
Participants also discussed the current budget’s inadequate response to Israel’s housing crisis. While the Israeli population has tripled since the 1970s, the number of public housing units has
not even doubled; there are currently 70,000 units, up from 40,000 forty years ago.
“If a child doesn’t have a home, he’ll likely end up in jail,” said Yoav Haas, a housing rights advocate who participated in the conference. “Israel has the resources to provide adequate housing to all of its citizens – it just doesn’t use them.”
These two conferences gained significant media attention; SHATIL organizers and other participant-activists were interviewed on several major radio and TV stations, educating about the proposed budget’s harmful impact on disadvantaged populations. This should, in turn, increase pressure on lawmakers to amend the budget to promote rather than harm social well-being.
The Knesset will hold a final vote on the budget on July 31st. Until then, SHATIL and the Social Budget Forum will continue to work for a socially just budget through facilitating direct
conversations between citizens and Knesset Members.
Breakthrough for LGBT Rights in Israeli Prisons
Following efforts by flagship NIFC-funded Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Israeli Prison Service has confirmed that LGBT prisoners will have the same rights to conjugal visits as heterosexuals.
ACRI began the campaign in 2009, when Chief Legal Counsel and NIF Law Fellow alum Dan Yakir sent a letter demanding that male and female prisoners receive conjugal visits even if they are in a relationship with a member of the same sex.
Following the decision, Yakir said: “It’s a shame that this revolution in the rights of members of the LGBT community has only now reached the Israeli prisons. Human rights, including the right to equality, don’t stop at the prison gates. This is another important step in consolidating the understanding that homosexual relationships are no less worthy than heterosexual relationships.”
Focusing on Religion and State — through the camera’s lens
First prize in a religion and state photo exhibit went to Ariel Cohen, a young religious soldier who was captivated by an old, torn photo of young women praying at the Western Wall tacked to an ordinary wall in a Haredi section of Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood.
Cohen snapped a photo of the photo during a tour of Jerusalem focusing on religion and state issues that was the brainchild of graduates of a SHATIL-Bet Hillel-Be Free Israel course on religion and state last April. NIFC is proud to support SHATIL and Bet Hillel. Cohen said he was inspired both by the public display of images of women at a time when many such images are being torn down in the Holy City and companies like Egged have agreed not to publish bus ads with images of women. The black-and-white nature of the photo brought to mind the black-and-white dress of Haredi men in the present time.
A panel of judges awarded Cohen a NIS1,000 prize. The winning photograph appears alongside nine others in the exhibit, “Religion and State through the Camera’s Lens.”
“The tour and the exhibit – and the use of art for social change — emphasizes the connection between the struggle of religion and state issues and our everyday lives,” said Merav Livneh-Dill, SHATIL’s Religious Pluralism Project Coordinator.
The goal of the tour and exhibit was to invigorate the public discourse around the “status quo” issue – the popular term for the political agreement reached between then-Jewish Agency Executive Chairman David Ben Gurion and the ultra-orthodox Agudat Israel party in 1947, which decided on matters of kashrut, Shabbat observance, religious education and marriage and divorce that affect Israelis to this day.
Demand for tour participation was high and had to be limited to 60 amateur photographers who, under the guidance of world religions researcher Tomer Persiko, saw and discussed points and places in the capital that are affected by the status quo. This includes restaurants struggling to get alternative kashrut certificates; the offices of the chief rabbinate at which representatives of Mavoi Satum explained the trials that agunot (or chained women) endure; walking past billboards with no women’s images and discussing the problem of the exclusion of women from the public sphere with members of the Yerushalmit Movement about the issue.
The photography exhibit can be seen in the Frank Sinatra Plaza at the Hebrew University campus on Mt. Scopus 24 hours a day, seven days a week until July 31.
June Event a Powerful Message of Hope
In June 2013, New Israel Fund of Canada organized Saying Yes to Social Change in Israel, a popular series of talks held across Canada by change agents in Israel.
The Toronto event at Beth Tzedec Congregation welcomed former member of Knesset Dr. Yossi Beilin, New Israel Fund women’s rights activist, Shira Ben-Sasson Furstenberg, and NIFC’s Social Justice Fellow, Samara Carroll.
These speakers brought a message of hope.
As in Canada, Israel’s democracy is strong – strong enough us to strive for more. Israel displays the courage to recognize democracy as a foundation of its government.
Because of your support of NIFC we have seen great advances in Israel’s ability to demand and accept change.
Like you, NIFC wants to see an Israel that accepts all people. We want an Israel that reflects the diversity expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Civil marriage stands as a case study of the role of religion in Israeli life.
Currently, the only marriage recognized by Israeli governments are those conducted by recognized religious leaders.
Conservative and Reform Jewish marriages are not recognized by the State of Israel. Neither are marriages between Muslims and Christians. Marriages among Jews whose conversions were not sanctioned by Orthodox rabbis cannot take place in Israel.
Israelis are forced to choose between cohabitation without the legal benefits that marriage offers or marrying in another country.
Married Israeli Jews in need of leaving a bad or abusive marriage must obtain a Jewish divorce in Israel that must subscribe to Orthodox Jewish laws.
What does that mean?
A woman must receive a get from her husband, a sometimes wrenching process placing more burden on the woman than the man. If the husband does not permit it, the marriage remains intact, even against the woman’s will.
Failure to receive a get often leads to de facto single mothers in financial limbo forbidden to remarry and prevented from receiving child support.
Your donations to the New Israel Fund of Canada support legal efforts to protect women in marital uncertainty. With your support, NIFC funds the education of Israeli attorneys in the field of civil rights to specifically target these issues on behalf of Israelis.
The role of women in the public sphere is also an area of focus for NIFC.
Women of the Wall, in particular, uncovered the role of both activism and lawmaking in protecting the rights of women in Israeli society.
After 24 years of attending Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel, the women’s rights group Women of the Wall succeeded in changing the ways that women are allowed to pray at the Western Wall.
Significant attention from people like you in the Diaspora contributed to this success.
Women’s rights are a significant focus for New Israel Fund of Canada. We fund projects that offer economic empowerment to Bedouin women; community leadership among Haredi women; and integration of immigrant women into broader Israeli society.
Without your support our work would not be possible, Thank you.
We have achieved great things in the last 30 years, and we still have a lot of work ahead. Please make a gift today of just $25.
Your donation will help us continue to fund important programs which help advance help the cause of women, secular Jews and all Israeli citizens.
Together we will create an Israel that reflects your values.
New Israel Fund of Canada
Israel to Fund Non-Orthodox Rabbis
Last week, in a major victory for religious pluralism in Israel, the State Attorney’s office announced that that the Ministry of Religious Services will allow rabbis from the Reform and Conservative movements to serve as community rabbis. The decision follows a seven-year legal struggle, which culminated with a 2012 ruling from the Supreme Court finally allowing for the publicly-financed funding of non-Orthodox rabbis in some communities.
The struggle began in 2005 with a petition to the Supreme Court by veteran NIF grantee Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). IRAC’s petition asked that the Gezer Regional Council be allowed to pay the salary of Reform Rabbi Miri Gold, who was serving their community. Negotiations hinged on what term would be used for non-Orthodox rabbis and according to reports, the final designation was “rabbi of a non-Orthodox community.” In response to the ruling, Rabbi Gold said, “Someday, there will be enough people here who understand that there’s more than one way to be Jewish.”
This is really not the end of the struggle, as important distinctions remain. Salaries for the Reform and Conservative rabbis will come from the Ministry of Culture and Sports, rather than the Ministry of Religious Services. The rabbis will not be government employees, but will instead receive stipends from the state. Additionally, they will have no authority over religious and halachic matters. Finally, the ruling only covers rural communities, not cities.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the head of Israel’s Reform movement, said, “The state’s decision to support the activities of Reform rabbis in regional councils, while clearly acknowledging their roles as rabbis, is an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel. This is the first, but significant, step toward equalizing the status of all streams of Judaism in Israel and we hope the state will indeed ensure the court’s commitments are fully applied. We expect that the state’s agreement to recognize the community activities of Reform rabbis will lead to additional steps that will annul the deep discrimination against non-Orthodox streams in Israel.”
In the meantime, IRAC is working on gaining state recognition for Jerusalem Reform rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman as an urban congregational rabbi.
Many political observers have pointed out that with the ultra-Orthodox parties not represented in the current coalition government; the Religious Affairs Ministry – run by national-religious party leader Naftali Bennett – can further liberalize some of Israel’s current policies that restrict religious tolerance and practice.
Israel to Look Poverty in the Face
Whether it was shame over having the highest poverty rate and fifth largest social gap of any member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the complaints from Israel’s social security administration, or the steady pressure from civil society – or all three – the government finally decided to tackle the issue of Israel’s climbing poverty rate. A special inter-ministerial committee to combat poverty was formed this week, which will be tasked with setting measurable targets for reducing poverty and social gaps – which are exactly the demands of the SHATIL-led Social Budget Forum. SHATIL is funded by New Israel Fund of Canada.
“It’s good to know that when you apply coordinated pressure, sometimes you see results,” said SHATIL Social Change Organizer Odeya Shabtai, who coordinates the work of the Social Budget Forum.
The Forum’s actions included mobilizing grassroots organizations via a Facebook campaign and flooding Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s inbox with emails demanding that he set specific goals and objectives for reducing poverty and bridging social/economic gaps.
On Wednesday, a letter initiated by the Social Budget Forum and the Forum to Combat Poverty which was signed by 55 influential Israelis demanding government action was sent to top officials and ministries. Among other actions, the letter asked the government to set a goal of reducing poverty rates by five per cent a year.
The OECD report found that the 2012 poverty rate in Israel was 21%, compared to less than 15% in 1995. A study by Israel’s National Insurance Institute revealed that the rate of children living in poverty rose from 26% in 1999 to 35.6% in 2011.
The next step in the campaign to convince the Israeli government to seriously tackle poverty will be a Knesset conference at the beginning of July, raising public awareness, and recruiting additional members of Knesset to the campaign.
Leaving the Fold
Yonatan [name has been changed] was raised in a typical ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem. He went to a Haredi school and yeshiva, and married when he was 18. Then something changed. “At a certain stage I began to think outside the box,” he explains. “About whether what they taught me is true, if God exists, and if he does whether he expects us to do mitzvoth. Why should I keep practicing when everything contradicts it?”
His crisis of faith was not sudden. It began with him sneaking off to the library to read up about science when he was 16, and it wasn’t until Yonatan was in his mid-twenties that he told his wife about his thinking. By then the couple had three children. “She already knew that I was critical and unconventional, but she didn’t know to what extent.” By that point, though, he had decided that he was no longer religious. “Let’s continue with the status quo,” was his wife’s response. Outside the home, she said he could live his life as he saw fit, but she asked him not to tell her about the things he had been reading. Then, independently, she began her own process of self-exploration, until she eventually came to the same conclusion. “It was a slow process of disconnection,” Yonatan reflects. Today, so as not to confuse the children who attend a National Religious school, they continue to keep Shabbat and maintain a kosher home, but they no longer live in an ultra-Orthodox area.
As a result of his experiences, Yonatan became one of the founding members of NIF grantee Yotzim L’Shinuim (Going Through a Change), which supports families going through the process of leaving the ultra-Orthodox world. Yotzim L’Shinuim is not an outreach organization trying to convince people to leave the Haredi world, but rather, it works with people who have already made that decision. The group provides people with educational and emotional support, as well as help in finding work.
Soon after their inception, the group found out about NIF/SHATIL, who introduced them to another group of ex-ultra-Orthodox working to change government policy regarding those who leave the Haredi community. The two groups teamed up. At present, there are special educational and employment benefits for haredim that are denied to those leaving the community, even though without communal support they need transitional assistance even more. “We want to ensure that those leaving the community receive the same rights that other Haredim receive,” Yonatan says.
Yotzim L’Shinum meets every two weeks for cultural events, lectures, and film screenings such as the recent Ponevezh Time. These events are vital in helping the members integrate into wider society. One member commented, “I didn’t know about The Beatles until I was 25!” They also run guidance session for parents. “We don’t want to disconnect from our families, but the relationships are very complicated. Maybe they understand, but they can’t accept it.,” noted another member. Future plans include the creation of an institute that will help ex-Haredim complete their studies, thus helping them properly integrate into society. “I missed the train,” Yonatan reflects. He is studying in his spare time, but he also needs to work so as to provide for his children, which means he might have to drop out. “I want to help others so their path will be easier.” The more Yotzim L’Shinuim develops, the more likely that will be.
Harish to be Open for All
In another key victory guaranteeing a free and open future for the town of Harish, Gideon Sa’ar, the Minister of Internal Affairs, has announced that he will not extend Nissim Dahan’s long-running tenure as head of the Harish Municipality. Mr. Dahan has held the position for the past seven years. Instead, in October, there will finally be elections in the town. The decision follows a petition to the Supreme Court by two local residents and the Ometz movement, which works to confront corruption in the public arena. The petition called for an end to Dahan’s tenure and for open and democratic elections.
Dahan had been associated with the now-failed effort to build a huge city for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Harish. Noam Hillel, a Harish resident and director of the NIF-supported Harish Coalition, said: “This is another victory in our campaign to turn Harish into a new city, advanced and open for all. We look forward to cooperating with the Interior Ministry in order to quickly lift this city on its feet.” Earlier this year, the coalition celebrated victory when an Israel Land Administration committee awarded housing contracts to a multitude of bidders representing the full spectrum of Israeli society, including groups representing the Arab community and those promoting affordable housing.
Israeli and English Soccer Players to Fight Racism
Early next week, NIF’s Kick Racism and Violence out of Soccer project is holding a special Football for All event featuring players from the Israeli and English Under-21 teams. The event is part of the UEFA Under-21 European Championships being held in Israel, which is the most important sporting event the country has ever held. The event will feature player activists struggling against racism and violence and promoting shared society, as well as the children who participate in their projects. These activists recently visited England as part of the Football for All delegation, where they learned techniques for combatting racism and violence in soccer from their English counterparts.
NIFC – An Agent for Transformative Change in Israel
Read up on Israel and you’re likely going to come away with a feeling of frustration and, worse, hopelessness. You’ll read about a stagnant peace process, threats to the rights of ethnic minorities and refugees and, most recently, the dangers of Syria. But behind the headlines, exciting developments shine the way towards an Israel dedicated to its Declaration of Independence – towards equality and democracy for all Israelis.
Change is afoot inside Israel. It’s happening at the neighbourhood level and on the streets. NIFC is bringing this discussion of change to Canada on June 17th and 18th. Leaders from grassroots activism and government will speak about how change is transforming today’s Israel.
In the midst of geopolitics, a realignment of priorities is forming among Israelis. Fed up with a perceived lack of progress, many are looking inward at the country’s social and economic challenges.
IMMEDIATE IMPACT OF THE 2011 SUMMER PROTESTS
In the Summer of 2011, massive social protests broke out in Tel Aviv, with over 300,000 flooding the streets to demand a more equitable state. Protesters called for an end to a shrinking middle class. It will take years for the kind of changes Israelis took to the streets to demand to be realized. NIFC is there for the long haul, helping to bring about that change every step of the way.
Case in point: neighbourhood cooperatives. Shared business ventures popped up within small villages and traditionally marginalized communities as a direct result of the protests. Co-ops promise greater financial independence for participants. Despite such intentions, co-op participants quickly faced the challenges of operating these ventures.
With its ear to the ground, NIFC-funded SHATIL promptly responded to emerging needs. In its role as a capacity builder, SHATIL has helped train co-ops leaders in management and organizational strategy. NIFC’s reaction to a bottom-up thirst for change makes it one of the most valuable and influential organizations on the ground in Israel today. Other examples of NIFC’s participation can be found in the fight for women’s rights in the public sphere, religious pluralism in military life, and social mobility for all Israelis.
SAYING YES TO SOCIAL CHANGE TODAY – NIFC EVENTS IN TORONTO, VANCOUVER, AND MONTREAL
NIFC is pleased to invite participants to come and hear about the challenges and opportunities faced by social activists inside Israel today. With two speakers that come from different backgrounds, yet are fighting for many of same causes, participants will get the opportunity to see how change can come from both the bottom and the top.
Register for events in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto by following the links in this newsletter. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Equal Pay for Equal Work!
On April 30, SHATIL marked Equal Pay Day with a presentation in a special session of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.
According to data from a study commissioned by SHATIL’s Equalizing Wages in Israel’s Workforce project, which aims to bridge gender pay gaps in Israel, one-in-four workplaces still discriminates against women when it comes to pay. The project is conducted in partnership with the Israel Women’s Network, the Adva Center and Israel’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Equal Pay Day received wide media coverage including a Jerusalem Post article.
Women account for nearly half of the civilian labor force in Israel, but they earn on average 65% of men’s salaries in equal positions. Israel is ranked fourth among OECD countries in gender wage gaps after Germany, South Korea, and Japan.
The Equalizing Wages project works to eradicate wage differences by motivating decision-makers to change policies; raising public awareness of the problem; conducting research; and developing knowledge and tools for action.
End Gender Segregation
May 8th became a day of celebration for proponents of equality in Israel after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein instructed the government to immediately stop the exclusion and segregation of women in the public sphere.
The mandate follows a multi-year campaign by the NIF family to put a halt to the regressive and demeaning trend.
The decision has wide ranging implications for norms of behavior on public transportation, at public ceremonies, cemeteries, within health funds, and even on what can be written on signs posted in public. Weinstein went so far as to recommend making discrimination against women in public services a criminal offense.
Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni announced she would take steps to ensure appropriate legislation is enacted. The Israeli daily The Marker called the decision a “bomb in the arena of secular-religious relations.” The story made headlines throughout the country as well as in the New York Times, which quoted SHATIL Director Ronit Heyd:
“It’s a very important message saying we will not let religious extremism take over. Israel can be both a Jewish and a liberal, democratic state. Once the religious law takes over the democracy, that’s where we’re in danger.”
The Attorney General’s directive is a resounding success for the SHATIL-coordinated Coalition against the Exclusion of Women, a group made up of feminist, pluralist and other social change organizations. Proposals included in its report, Equal Space: Practical Proposals for Addressing the Exclusion of Women in Israel, which the Coalition presented to the government last year, are echoed in Weinstein’s recommendations.
While lauding the announcement, the Coalition called for government funding to ensure close monitoring of the of the recommendations’ implementation.
New ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ Policy at the Mikveh
Following a petition by NIF grantees the Center for Women’s Justice and Kolech, the Rabbinical Council has instituted a ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy regarding mikveh (ritual bath) use by women. The petition was submitted in the name of two women who had been forbidden from using the mikveh because they weren’t married, but the petition also included cases of married women facing the same problem, as well as women on the eve of their wedding. According to Orthodox Jewish law, a Jewish woman is supposed to use the mikveh before her marriage and then at the end of each menstrual cycle.
The women agreed to withdraw the petition after the rabbinate announced that “there should be no stipulations or asking questions regarding their status to women who come to perform ritual immersion in the mikveh.”
Attorney Susan Weiss, director and founder of the Center for Women’s Justice, said in response: “We praise the position of the rabbinate, according to which one has to respect [the women’s] privacy. It remains to be seen how the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs, Eli Ben-Dahan, will implement this ruling.”
The Center for Women’s Justice, which was established in 2004, is dedicated to defending and protecting the rights of women in Israel to equality, dignity and justice in Jewish law. Kolech, founded in 1998, was the first Orthodox Jewish feminist organization in Israel.
Interview: NIFC Law Fellow Raya Meiler
NIF Law Fellow Raya Meiler made headlines earlier this month when she argued – and won – two important legal victories before Israeli courts. Raya is an attorney for NIF grantee Hotline for Migrant Workers.
First, the Supreme Court accepted her petition arguing that torture represented “exceptional humanitarian grounds” for releasing detainees held under the Anti-Infiltration Law from prison.
Second, in a precedent-setting ruling, the Be’er Sheva district court ruled that minors detained under the Anti-Infiltration Law should be released from jail, even if they are accompanied by their parents. Following this ruling, the Interior Ministry agreed to free all Eritrean mothers and children jailed under the law.
These would be remarkable achievements for any lawyer, let alone one still in her twenties. Almost as impressive, though, is Raya’s personal journey to becoming a human rights defender.
Raya was born in Moldova (“like [former Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman,” she says with a wink). In 1991, when she was seven, her family made aliyah, settling in Be’er Sheva. While working as a medic in the army, she received a letter from Tel Aviv University’s Law Faculty about a special program for outstanding students from the periphery. Raya became one of only ten students to be accepted for the program.
Her first two years at law school were tough. “The people were so different from Be’er Sheva,” she says. “Most of them came from rich families in the center of the country. It was difficult socially. I felt like an outsider.” Then she heard about the university’s Human Rights Clinic, supervised by Professor Neta Ziv, who had been an NIF Law Fellow back in 1986. “It [the clinic] opened my eyes. It made me realize that everyone – no matter their religion, gender, or the color of their skin – deserves the same rights.”
Early in her career, Raya played a role in a precedent-setting same-same adoption case. She also became more politically aware. “I came from a left-wing family and I knew about the occupation, but I didn’t fully understand what made it so illegitimate,” Raya explains. She took part in Breaking the Silence and Ir Amim tours of the occupied territories. “Then I really understand what the occupation was all about.”
She also took part in SHATIL’s Everett Fellows for Social Justice program, which opened her eyes to a wide variety of social justice issues across Israeli society. Upon graduation from law school, she worked for a year at the Attorney General’s Office.
“It was very hard to make the switch and to represent the State, for example, on the issue of destroying Bedouin houses. But I emerged with a far greater understanding of how the State thinks and how government institutions make decisions, which is why I decided to do it in the first place.”
After successfully passing her bar exam, Raya wanted to travel to South America. She also dreamed of doing an MA in the US, but her English wasn’t yet good enough. There was enough money for travelling, or for studying English in America. She chose the latter, spending half-a-year at the ELS Language Center in Philadelphia. Upon her return she began work as a lawyer; soon after that she applied for NIF’s Israel-U.S. Civil Liberties Law Program, which offers two years of academic and professional experience to Israeli lawyers specializing in civil rights advocacy.
The Law Fellow program allowed Raya to study at American University Washington College of Law (WCL). “I studied with very inspiring people, and this time I had a full stipend. It was great to study with people from all over the world, all of whom wanted to learn about human rights. It was the best year of my life.”
For the second year of the program, Fellows return to Israel and work at a social change organization. While she had been in America, the Knesset had passed the Anti-Infiltration Law, under which asylum seekers could be detained for three years, or more, without charge. It was also a period of awful incitement from politicians, for example when Eli Yishai described asylum seekers as a “cancer in our body”. This inspired Raya to choose to work at the Hotline for Migrant Workers, where she specialized in defending asylum seeker rights and human trafficking in Israel.
“I was excited, but ready,” she says of the hearing on the torture case. “I was confident that the Supreme Court would overrule the district court’s ruling. You don’t need to be a genius to understand that torture constitutes exceptional circumstances to release someone from jail.” As for the case at the Be’er Sheva court, she said she arrived calm. “I thought that justice was on our side. At the beginning of the hearing, when the judge ordered that the detained children not be made to sit in the place where the alleged criminals sit, I didn’t think he would leave them in jail.”
The mother and her two daughters were released soon after the hearing.
“We’re very happy, because it’s so hard to release people under the Anti-Infiltration Law. When you see them out of jail you know you’re doing the right thing.”
Raya’s internship with Hotline for Migrant Workers is due to end soon, although she hopes she’ll be able keep working there for at least another year. “At Hotline it’s about changing reality, not making money.”
NIF’s Law Fellow alumni form the core of the civil rights bar in Israel – as academics, founders and leaders of non-profit organizations, litigators, public defenders, Knesset members, and judges. Fellowship alumni have successfully argued dozens of landmark cases, affected legislation, and shaped public policies that have changed the course of Israeli human rights, environmental and disabilities law, and made lasting contributions to religious freedom and pluralism in Israel.
A Message From Our Executive Director
On a Spring evening when everyone should have been strolling outdoors, a club filled up instead to hear the perspectives of five dynamic young Canadians. Panelists all under thirty reflected on how their experiences in Israel transformed their perceptions of social issues on the ground.
Let me describe the room for you: a group of shy college students coming an hour away to participate; a pair of camp alumni meeting up for drinks; professionals coming straight from work; a young mom sneaking away for the evening. What they had in common was a search for community under a tent of honest dialogue about Israel.
Our speakers represented a diverse set of experiences available to young Canadians – Dorot Fellowships, Birthright, Doctors for Human Rights, Hashomer Hatzair, Operation Groundswell, the Arava Institute. Despite a lifetime of interest in Israel, it took a commitment to experience it face-to-face – on their own terms – to cultivate their own opinions about the country.
What has resulted for some is an ambivalence in their current stance about Israel. As one panelist described it, It’s scary to be in this narrow space where being critical of Israel gets you branded as self-hating. And, yet, the panelist has felt compelled to devote herself to meeting the challenge – to keep asking honest questions. She is inspired by a love for Israel and a belief in its potential.
For others to hear about the vulnerability that someone so immersed in Israeli issues still feels was one powerful result of this evening. It’s not easy to ask honest questions. It’s not easy standing alone in a narrow space, as our panelist described it. Yet, for those in the room, it is imperative to participate in the dialogue. I’m proud that New Israel Fund of Canada offered such an opportunity. It’s possible that packing a room on a gorgeous Spring night helped widen the space for participants to support and be supported by others in their love for Israel.
Eritrean Asylum Seekers and Children Released from Detention
The Israeli Ministry of Interior released all Eritrean mothers and children detained under the Anti-Infiltration Law on Monday.
The release of the nine Eritrean asylum seekers along with their ten children took place following a precedent-setting ruling by the Be’er Sheva District Court. In the ruling, Judge Alon granted an appeal filed by the Hotline for Migrant Workers and declared that being a minor can be considered a “special humanitarian ground” for release from detention, even under the Anti-Infiltration Law.
Hotline for Migrant Workers commended the release of the detainees, which follows a long period of detention and continual petitions for release by the organization.
Adi Lerner, the Crisis Intervention Center Coordinator at Hotline said: “We commend the decision of the Ministry of Interior, yet we are puzzled why there was a need to detain such young children (from the age of 18 months to seven) for such a long period of time before noticing what is crystal clear: children should not be behind bars regardless of their origin. We need to remember that even now, six families with 14 children are still detained in the Saharonim internment camp. We call the Ministry of Interior to release them as well.”
According to Israeli law, a person is considered a minor until the age of 18, but in its responses to court, the State refers to detained children only under the age of 10 as minors. Hotline for Migrant Workers is aware of a 14-year-old South Sudanese minor who was separated from his mother and younger siblings and is detained separately from them in the men’s section, in violation of regulations that prohibit the jailing of minors alongside detainees over the age of 18.
While all of the Eritrean detainee children were released, other asylum-seeking children are still locked up.
Prior to this ruling, the State argued that since the Anti-Infiltration Law states that unaccompanied minors can be released from detention, it necessarily means that minors accompanied by their parents should remain in detention. In his ruling last week, Judge Alon stated that releasing minors on humanitarian grounds could be considered regardless of whether the minor is accompanied or not. He added that “remaining in indefinite detention will undoubtedly cause significant harm to the minors’ social and mental development.”
Women May Soon Select Religious Judges
New legislation recently passed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs means women may soon have a say in the selection of religious judges (dayanim). Proposed by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and MK Shuli Mualem (Jewish Home), the legislation reserves three places for women on the selection committee for the judges. MK Lavie called the bill “another step towards returning Judaism to Israelis.” There will be eleven members on the committee, one of whom will be a female rabbinical court advocate.
The rabbinical courts are responsible for all personal status issues of Jews in Israel. Currently, only male dayanim are allowed to serve on this committee.
This breakthrough follows an intensive period of lobbying by the NIF-founded International Coalition for Agunah Rights (ICAR), which includes 24 organizations devoted to solving the problem of agunot (women whose husbands won’t grant them a religious divorce).
Robyn Shames, ICAR Executive Director, said: “This is a first and important step in the inclusion of women and their influence on the system of the rabbinical courts in Israel, which is currently controlled only by men. We hope that the government and the Knesset will succeed in fixing the injustice of the unequal representation of women in this committee before new rabbinical court judges are appointed.”
And the Award Goes To…
On Earth Day – April 22nd – the SHATIL-coordinated Forum for Responsible Planning strode down the green carpet to accept the Green Globe – Israel’s Environmental Oscars – award. The Green Globe is Israel’s most prestigious environmental prize, and is awarded annually to individuals or organizations for outstanding environmental achievements and excellence.
The Forum was awarded the prize for saving Israel’s environment from potential disaster by fostering cooperation between environmental and social justice organizations, and for their public activism, legal, political, and media efforts. The Forum’s campaign resulted in significant amendments to the proposed reform of Israel’s Planning and Building Law and lead to the delay of the damaging reform’s legislation.
The proposed law would have privatized the planning process in ways that limit public input, increase the potential for environmental damage, and provide more clout to wealthy land developers.
“By bringing together such a diverse group, not only did the Forum present a united front that empowered activists to face a concerted government effort; it also created a collective agenda for change,” said attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo Director of Advocacy for NIFC’s flagship grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and an active member of the Forum. “We were able to bring to light anti-social, environmentally harmful, and anti-democratic aspects of the government plan, presenting a collective agenda that appealed to many Israelis.”
In the four years since its establishment, the Forum, a diverse coalition of more than 30 environmental and social organizations, has succeeded in blocking the legislation on numerous occasions, achieving its greatest success in March 2012 when it prevented a Knesset vote and effectively put an end to the proposed reform.
NIFC supported SHATIL played a critical role over the weeks leading to the 2012 Knesset vote, connecting activists to professional advocacy and media experts and coordinating an intensive campaign, which included public demonstrations, a high-profile conference, petitions to policy makers, an online campaign, and a media blitz. Thanks to these efforts a genuine public outcry emerged, leaving the government no choice but to abandon its plans.
The decision to grant the award to a group integrating environmental and social activists reaffirms SHATIL’s core belief that environmental and social issues are intertwined and emphasizes our strategy of facilitating cooperation between diverse groups and agendas.
Despite the Forum’s success, the struggle is far from over. A new government plan — potentially as disastrous as the original reform — has emerged, highlighting the importance of continued action by a united front promoting a social, democratic, and environmentally friendly planning policies. SHATIL will be at the forefront of this struggle both in its role as the Forum’s coordinator and as part of its many other environmental programs.
From Boston to Jerusalem
As everyone the world over knows, last week was a very hard week for the Boston region where we are quite unaccustomed to suffering from acts of terror. I live in Watertown, MA, ground zero for the final manhunt for the perpetrators of the bombing and other crimes. The last gun battle, essentially on Kabbalat Shabbat, was minutes from my home. The silver lining to the senseless violence and suffering is the feeling of solidarity and support Bostonians felt. We all used social media to react in real time to updates on the investigation and manhunt. I was personally touched by the outpouring from friends, family, and colleagues from around the world, including from so many of my co-workers, both Jewish and Arab, in Israel.
However, the aftermath has left us with some issues to ponder that will not resolve quickly.
First, our cousins in Israel, sadly, have much more experience with this sort of trauma than we do. We got a hint of this as we made the transition from the Boston Marathon bombings, which coincidentally took place on Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, to Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, the following day. Annually, Israelis make the shift between solemnity and joy, shared sacrifice and national liberation. With last Monday’s events news still fresh, the shift to Yom Ha’atzmaut was particularly hard this year for Boston Jews. Will this added dimension better help us understand the Israeli experience? What will Yom Ha’atzmaut feel like next year for us?
Second, people are beginning to question whether locking down much of the region was necessary. I personally don’t quibble with the decision. I was glad to have my family close at hand last Friday. And as one NIF board member suggested recently, Boston is really a small town. We all know each other, so it made sense that we would all, in unison, obey the call to stay out of the way as if part of a small town. However, another Watertown family interviewed in Ha’aretz suggested that they could not imagine Israel shutting down a major city to hunt down one nineteen-year-old kid. What is the right balance? Hopefully, we will not have to learn the right answer for ourselves the hard way in the future.
Lastly, the region felt relief and joy when the surviving brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured. The accolades heaped on our first responders were gratifying and touching to listen to. A friend of mine brought his kindergarten twins to the Watertown police station to thank the police in person. A marathoner walked in at that moment to deliver her medal to show her appreciation. Now that the euphoria is dying down, what implications will last week’s events have on social policy? Will it harden our hearts or open them? Will immigration reform suffer? Will civil rights be curtailed in the name of security? Will we act in kinship with those who endure terror daily around the world?
All of us in Boston are grateful that chapter one of this nightmare has concluded. The healing process is only beginning. As we look to move forward, it helps me to think of Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel’s words at the Boston interfaith service attended by President Obama. Ronne quoted Rabbi Nachman of Breslav who said, “The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the important principle is to transcend, somehow, your fear.”
And the Winners Are…
NIF is thrilled to announce the winners of the 2013 Yaffa London-Yaari Award for Women’s Social Initiatives. The prize aims to promote social change projects aimed at improving the status of Israeli women. In return for the NIS 15,000 prize, the women pledge to commit to at least three years of activism for their cause
Olga Levitensky: Olga is a doctor from the former Soviet Union who is active in the Forum for Olim Families. She will use the prize money to operate a hotline that will help new immigrants better navigate the welfare system and receive all the rights they are entitled to, with the goal of helping them better integrate into society.
Amal Abu Alkum: Amal runs after-school centers for children-at-risk, as well as training programs for women and sports groups for young people in the Bedouin Negev town of Segev Shalom. With the prize she will set up the ”Heritage House for Grandmothers,” a center for teenage girls-at-risk that will be operated by volunteer grandmothers from the area.
Ety Hen: Ety is a single mother who is active in the struggle for public housing in Jerusalem. With the prize money, she will set up a community center in the Katamonim neighborhood, with an emphasis on helping single mothers and the elderly. There will also be after-school activities for children, a communal kitchen and food cooperative, as well as film screenings and lectures. The center will serve as an information hub for all issues related to public housing.
Malcha Yarom: Malcha is the founder and executive director of Jerusalem’s House of Hope, which supports divorced Haredi women. She will use the prize to develop a special program for 14-18 year-old Haredi teenage girls whose mothers are supported by the NGO. The program will focus on the girls’ self-esteem and will help them develop important life skills.
The prize is named after Yaffa London-Yaari, a leading social justice activist. The winners will be presented with their prizes by NIF President Brian Laurie and Knesset Member Merav Michaeli at a special ceremony to be held on May 1st in Tel Aviv. Stay tuned for news of the prize-winners’ future achievements.
Victim of Racist Attack Receives Full Salary
Following pressure from the NIF-supported Tag Meir coalition and a group of employees at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, Hassan Ausruf, will continue to receive his salary until he can return to work.
At the end of February, Ausruf, a 40-year-old Tel Aviv municipal worker, was assaulted in the city by a group of 15 drunken youths while on the job. So far, four youth have been arrested in connection with the attack.
The attackers reportedly targeted Ausraf because he was Arab, shouting “dirty Arab,” during the incident.
A few weeks ago the city of Tel Aviv announced that it would stop paying Ausruf, on the grounds that as a contract worker was not entitled to continued pay as he recovered. Tag Meir mobilized, bringing the issue to the attention of the media.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai responded. His office announced that if Hassan won’t be able to return to his work because of his injuries that the municipality will continue to ensure that he receives his salary until he can return.
Local Elections as Leverage for Change
Ahead of the municipal elections scheduled for October in 250 localities, SHATIL is training activists around the country to promote social, environmental, and economic justice and build a truly shared society. SHATIL is also providing guidance and consulting to local activist groups and organizations that want to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the elections to influence their towns’ agenda.
The upcoming local elections provide a special opportunity to advance the environmental agenda. In two six-day trainings, participants will learn how to shape a strategy to promote an environmental agenda and how to effectively influence national and local decision makers. They will also gain practical lobby experience.
Seven-session trainings across the country began in mid-April and will include leadership training; information about municipal processes; skill-building in advocacy, media, communications and other skills needed for work within and vis-a-vis municipal bodies. Fifty-five participants applied for the training in Israel’s central region, and from that pool 18 top notch participants were selected.
Fourteen additional local trainings in other parts of Israel will promote religious pluralism; sustainability; how to become involved in local budget decisions; activism among Ethiopian immigrants; affordable housing; employment; and education.
The trainings in the north, south and center are conducted in collaboration with Shaharit, a new, progressive think tank, the Social Economic Academy, the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, the Local Social Guard, and the Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev.
Avi Dabush, SHATIL programs director said: “The first local elections after the social protest of 2011 provide an opportunity for activists who want to instigate change on their street, in their neighborhood, and in the cities they call home. Our motto here is an old African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’”
Tag Meir Visits Homes of Assaulted Teacher
Last week, members of the NIF-supported Tag Meir coalition, visited the home of Suhad Abu-Zmiro, the victim of a racist assault in Jerusalem. A teacher at a Jewish middle school in Ramat HaSharon, Suhad was attacked by several Orthodox youths in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe.
Seeing Abu-Zmiro in a hijab, the teenagers allegedly threw rocks and other objects at the car, yelled racist abuse, and spat at the teacher. Three teenage boys were arrested, and two others turned themselves in.
After reading about the incident, several members of the Sha’ar HaGolan kibbutz got in touch with Tag Meir and organized a visit to Abu-Zmiro’s home. Residents of Kiryat Moshe also visited the home, saying: “This was a desecration of God’s name. We have a responsibility to our children, our teachers, and our neighborhood.”
Touched by the solidarity shown by the Tag Meir activists, Abu-Zmiro said: “It was a shocking and humiliating incident. To think about the fact that you have been attacked just because you are Arab is not easy; it’s not simple. My father taught us to love all people as they are, that everyone is equal, Jews and Arabs. I decided to teach in a Jewish school so that Jewish children could get to known an Arab woman in a personal way and to break down barriers. Education is the way to combat this phenomenon.”
Abu-Zmiro with two well-wishers from Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem).Tag Meir head Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu said: “The visit was very moving. More than 50 people came, and the action has received massive coverage in the Israeli media. And the new incoming Education Minister, Dr. Shai Piron, gave a class on tolerance at Abu-Zmiro’s school. Knesset Member Elazar Stern also dealt with the issue in an interview with Army Radio. This is because of Tag Meir’s efforts.”
Tag Meir, an NIF-convened coalition that responds to acts of hatred with acts of healing solidarity, is gearing up for an expansion of its activities in the coming months
Defending Asylum Seeker Rights in Israel
Gabriel is from Eritrea. In 2001, when he was studying educational management at the University of Asmara, the government mandated that all students in the country spend their summer working for the regime without pay. The Students’ Union protested the decision, and all objectors were sent to jail without a trial. After a few months, Gabriel was freed, but two of his fellow students died during their imprisonment.
The following year, Gabriel and his friends were assigned to eight months of forced labor followed by conscription into the army. In Eritrea, soldiers spend most of their time doing forced labor for the regime instead of military activities, without being paid for their efforts. Even worse, he was only permitted to see his family once a year. “I didn’t use my education at all,” Gabriel says, “They used me as a slave.”
By 2006, Gabriel had enough. He managed to escape, first to Ethiopia, and from there to Sudan. He had heard that Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East and hoped he would be able to find shelter there. When he arrived in 2007, there were only 300 Eritreans in the country. Gabriel teamed up with the others, and set up the first organization working to defend Eritrean rights.
He soon formed links with human rights organization in Israel, and began volunteering as a translator for NIF grantee Hotline for Migrant Workers. “I do everything in my power to form a bridge between the Israeli and Eritrean communities,” he says. At the same time he worked in a number of restaurants before opening a small shop with Eritrean products in 2010. He also met his wife, with whom he has two children – Matan and Yehudit. He finally feels safe here, but has found it hard to live with the constant uncertainty of his unresolved immigration status. “We have to renew our visas every three months, and we never know how much more time we have here,” he reflects.
In December 2012, Gabriel joined the paid Hotline staff as a translator. In addition to meeting with groups to tell them about Eritrea and the Eritrean community in Israel, he also travels once a week to the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev to record the testimonies of Eritreans who have been detained there, to answer their questions, and to help them communicate with the authorities.
As a result of the Anti-Infiltration Law passed last year, refugees are subject to administrative detention of up to three years with limited judicial review, and up to five years for anyone found providing shelter, employment or transportation to an “infiltrator.” Saharonim is the largest detention center for immigrants in the western world.
“I feel like I’m helping my people, but it’s difficult for me to hear the stories,” Gabriel says about his work. Many of them were in jail for a long time in Eritrea, and will now be in jail for a long time in Israel. Thanks to the work of Gabriel and the Hotline, though, there is a greater chance that these people will one day gain the freedom that they so richly deserve.
Six Teens Take Discrimination to Court – and Win!
Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers Orit Raday, Idan Hezekiam, and four friends wanted to find work before beginning their army service. A recruitment agency sent them to a prestigious events hall in Caesaria, but when they arrived they were in for a shock. “This isn’t what we requested,” one of the workers mumbled, and sent them on their way.
The problem? The color of their skin. Tebeka, which provides legal aid to the Ethiopian community, helped the six youngsters sue for damages at the district labor court. According to the suit, “The six plaintiffs arrived at the venue with four other people who weren’t Ethiopian. They were asked to leave without a logical explanation, while the four workers who weren’t of Ethiopian origin were allowed to stay.”
In a big win against discrimination, the court ruled in their favor. Each of the youth was awarded NIS 30,000 in compensation. Last week, the youngsters arrived at the Tebeka offices to collect their checks.
“I was in shock and I was extremely angry,” said Orit Raday, who is 18. “Today I am happy that the company has learned its lesson – anyone who hurts someone on account of their skin color should be punished.”
Idan Hezekiam said, “It’s forbidden to give up – that’s the lesson. Today I feel that we won.”
Both youngsters connected their victory with Barack Obama’s visit to Israel. “It’s symbolic,” Orit said.
Attorney Ariel Azala was also pleased with the settlement: “It sends out a clear message that there can be no separate but equal. We have to eradicate this indecent phenomenon and do everything we can to create a more just and equal society.”
New Political Map: A Push for Pluralism
Israel’s new political reality is inspiring renewed hopes for religious pluralism in Israel. With Yair Lapid’s (Yesh Atid) strong support for civil marriage increasingly echoed by other prominent and rising political figures along with 86% – according to the latest polls – of Israel’s secular Jewish public, the time is ripe for action.
This spring, SHATIL has launched three initiatives focused on pluralism and recruiting new populations including students as well as Mizrachi and Orthodox women.
A course run in conjunction with Beit Hillel and Be Free Israel trained a cadre of religious and secular Hebrew University students in the ins and outs of religion and state. In addition to gaining knowledge and activism tools, the students came up with two innovative projects. The “marriage guide compass” will enable Israelis to map their preferences regarding types of marriage as well as their limitations in Israel. The students also plan to create a photo exhibition on issues relating to religion and state to be exhibited at a Jerusalem pub and other locations. Both projects are designed to call public attention to the problems surrounding marriage laws in Israel and hope to inspire change.
“The course was very meaningful, especially its practical aspect,” said Reut Klinberger, a Hebrew University law student. “We were really directed toward action and met so many people who can help us make progress in this area.”
In addition to the Hebrew University course, this spring SHATIL is running two other initiatives aimed at promoting religious pluralism. A support/action group for Orthodox women leaders will provide the women with a safe space to share and discuss the daily dilemmas they encounter in their work as Orthodox feminists. And Tidreshi, a course for 18 traditional Sephardic and Mizrachi women, aims to stem recent trends of religious radicalization – with a special focus on the exclusion of women from the public sphere – within Mizrachi communities. Based on the study of classic Jewish texts relating to social justice and practical training in creating social change, the course recently was covered in Haaretz (in Hebrew) as well as on Israeli television. The course is in collaboration with Memizrach Shemesh.
NIFC Celebrates International Women’s Day
In celebration of International Women’s Day, NIF held a week-long series of public events focusing on women’s rights in Israel.
This year, NIF sponsored a first-of-its-kind collection of women’s protest poetry, Naked Queen. The anthology includes 193 poems written by 103 leading poets and singers on a variety of themes, including the harassment of women; women’s sexuality and body image; and the economic difficulties faced by women. Two poetry evenings in Jerusalem and one event in Tel Aviv, featured a number of the poets, as well as a public discussion of its themes.
In another event, ‘Rising from the Benches’, leading female athletes and media personalities explored the reasons why so few women attend sports events in Israel, even though a majority of them follow sports on a regular basis. An NIF-commissioned survey found that a fear of violence and racism are the primary causes for their absence from the stands. Experience from other countries demonstrates that the more women attend sports events, the less violence and racism are displayed by the audience. NIF hopes to use this information to help kick start a process of encouraging more women, and thus less racism, at sporting events.
We were also proud that the impact of our work on women’s rights was highlighted by the popular Israeli magazine La’Isha’s shortlist of 15 women for the prestigious Rappaport Prize, which recognizes the achievements of a woman who has worked hard to promote social change. Seven of the nominees came from the NIF/SHATIL family, demonstrating how successful we have been in bringing feminism to the mainstream.
NIF Celebrates Precedent-Setting Ruling for Women’s Rights
A precedent-setting ruling on behalf of a 41-year-old single mother constitutes a major victory for women’s rights
The case began when the woman, a teacher, was fired from her position at a religious educational institution for becoming pregnant without being married. Her dismissal was handed down without a hearing and without requesting permission from the commissioner of the Employment of Women Law, which is required when firing a pregnant woman.
In a friend of the court briefing, NIFC funded Kolech presented a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling of Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, which states that there is no prohibition on unmarried women becoming pregnant.
The Tel Aviv regional labor court ruled that the firing was a violation of the Law of Equal Opportunities, the Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, and the Law of Freedom of Occupation.
According to the ruling: “The court rejected the position of the educational institution that, in the name of religious values, it has the right to fire a teacher because of the fact that she became pregnant without being married…the institution behaved in a disproportionate and unreasonable way. The decision of a single mother to bring a child into the world does not enable a religious educational institution to fire her and to violate her basic right to parenthood and freedom of employment.”
Riki Shapira-Rozenberg, a legal advisor to Kolech, said that the case was one of a number of incidents when single mothers were fired from religious educational institutions and either didn’t have the strength to fight back or resigned because they knew what was coming: “The ruling is revolutionary because it states clearly that these women can’t be fired for being single mothers. The real source of the problem isn’t religion, but patriarchy and a fear of independent women.”
Following Petition, Haredi Schools Ordered to Apply Standardized Tests
Following a petition by NIF grantee the Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), the Supreme Court has ordered the Education Ministry to present a plan for standardized testing in the ultra-Orthodox school system for court approval within 100 days. The court also ruled that the plan must include a provision stating that schools failing to perform the tests will be sanctioned.
Ultra-Orthodox schools are already required to teach core subjects like mathematics and civics, but enforcement of the requirement is very uneven. This petition aims to ensure that standardized tests used in the Israeli secular schools measure students’ progress. IMPJ argued that these are necessary to ensuring that all Israeli children receive an education that will provide them with basic abilities as adult citizens
In response to the decision, IMPJ’s Rabbi Gilad Kariv said: “The Supreme Court sent a clear message to the Education Ministry to stop turning a blind eye to the Haredi education’s conduct. This message must be turned into significant government action.” The importance of this petition was highlighted by the response of Attorney Adiel Glass, representing a number of Haredi institutions, who said that the Haredi schools did not want to teach core subjects. “Following many threats, the students were tested on the subject,” he said. “We don’t want to cancel religious study hours. But if push comes to shove, we’ll cooperate.”
IMPJ and other NIF grantees working in the sphere of religious pluralism will be watching closely to see how the Education Ministry responds to the court’s demand, and will also be working hard to promote religious pluralism with the new government.
Supporting women’s advancement through local businesses
Kamla El Hawajra, a Bedouin woman from Israels Negev, was having a hard time. After having six children, she finished high school and went on to complete courses in computers, cooking, and running a home day care, as well as volunteering in the community’s well-baby clinics. But she was not able to find work.
Kamla’s luck began to change four years ago when she became part of Israel’s first community kitchen, set up by AJEEC and the Hura Local Council in partnership with the Hura Women’s Council and the Hura Community Center.
A community kitchen is a local, sustainable business that provides meals for school lunch programs, thus leveraging a government program to create jobs and benefit the local economy. It is an elegant solution to three social challenges: food security (and within this promotion of nutritious food); local economic development – especially in disadvantaged areas; and the creation of jobs open to all. SHATIL Community Organizer Shirley Karavani explains that community kitchens can have a positive effect on a community at many levels. “It enables public money to be used in a smarter way,” she says.
The Hura Community Kitchen provides 5,600 meals per day to qualifying elementary and kindergarten children and employs 11 women. The kitchen is connected with SHATIL’s local sustainable economic development project.
“Before I worked, I felt like a weak woman,” says Kamla, now 46 and a mother of eight and grandmother of three. “My husband is on disability and I could not provide properly for my kids. Since I started working in the kitchen, I feel like a strong woman. I can help my children. My daughter is studying math at Kaye College and I’m paying her fees. I am so happy that she is getting educated so she will not suffer in life as I did. It’s my wish that kitchens like ours be established all over the country so women can earn money for their children and thus keep them on the right path.”
SHATIL and AJEEC, together with the Hura Local Council, are working to make Kamla’s wish come true. Last Thursday Community Kitchens: From Idea to Recipe brought together 80 activists, government and local authority officials, and representatives of foundations to get a first-hand look at the Hura Community Kitchen. The seminar offered practical tools for establishing other kitchens based on this successful model and promoted policies using local resources to provide healthy food in school lunches and other public nutrition programs. Food for the day was provided by the Hura Community Kitchen.
Those involved in the community kitchen emphasize that the success of the model depends not only on individual initiatives, but on government policies. Ran Melamed, deputy director of Yedid, which is partnering on advocacy efforts with SHATIL and AJEEC, spoke at the conference on the drive to get laws passed that would give preference in government contracts to community enterprises like this one, especially those dealing with food.
The government-mandated school lunch program provides needy elementary school students with one hot meal a day. In 2011, 170,000 children received hot meals at a cost of NIS200 million. One of the recommendations of the Trachtenberg Committee following the social justice protests was to double the size of the program. As a result, this school year, 350,000 elementary school and kindergarten pupils are receiving these meals.