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 email@example.com
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.