2014 will be remembered as a difficult one in Israel’s history. We witnessed a bloody war during which civilians bore the brunt of the toll, horrible hate crimes perpetrated by both Jews and Arabs, and most recently a swathe of anti-democratic legislation. With everything that happened in Israel this year, our partnership to foster democratic values, and support human rights and social justice has never been more crucial.
Throughout 2014, the New Israel Fund and our grantees lowered tensions between Jewish- and Palestinian-Israelis, ensured lines of communication were kept open at the most crucial times, provided protection for the citizens most vulnerable to the dangers of rocket fire from Gaza, and empowered human rights monitors to continue their work.
Democracy, Civil and Human Rights
Palestinian and Bedouin Israelis
- Following a multi-year struggle, Arab residents of unrecognised neighbourhoods in the mixed city of Lod will finally be connected to the national electricity grid. SHATIL, NIF’s action arm, together with NIF grantee Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights, has been working on housing and planning rights in Lod for the past decade, and is currently helping Arab and vulnerable Jewish residents influence the city’s new master plan and secure housing rights.
- Following a 2007 petition by flagship NIF grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which challenged the discriminatory practice of subjecting all Arab travellers to special security checks, a new automated system for checking passengers' bags has been implemented. Although Arab Israeli and Palestinian travellers have since reported some positive changes; ACRI does not intend to withdraw the legal petition until further changes are instituted.
- In a major victory for Bedouin land rights, a Be’er Sheva court upheld the cancellation of 51 demolition orders in the Negev village of Alsira. The decision follows an eight-year legal struggle led by Adalah. This case is an important legal precedent for all unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev, and means that the 350 Bedouin citizens of the village will be allowed to remain in their homes.
Refugees and asylum seekers, and migrant workers
- In a major victory for human rights, Israel’s Supreme Court invalidated the arbitrary imprisonment of African asylum seekers. Five NIF grantees including the Hotline for Migrant Workers brought the case to the High Court, which handed down its decision in mid-September. The Knesset, however, continues to evade Israel’s responsibility to refugees, passing another bill to imprison them for shorter periods without asylum hearings. More than 200 detainees were recently released after months or years of incarceration.
- After a protracted legal battle, 221 children of migrant workers will receive legal status to stay in Israel, the only home they’ve ever known. The victory follows a multi-year effort by Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and Israeli Children. NIF will continue the larger issue of advocating for a sane and fair immigration policy, and for an Israel that values everyone who is dedicated to its well-being and its future.
- A Supreme Court ruling ensures that long-time foreign workers in Israel are entitled to the same social benefits and health insurance rights as Israelis. According to the ruling, foreign workers in the nursing care sector who have been in Israel more than 10 years should be given the same social benefits and health insurance rights as Israeli citizens. The decision followed a petition by Kav La’Oved.
During the war in Gaza
- A number of NIF grantees, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and B’tselem, documented the horrific impact on civilians in Gaza and in Israel as victims of rocket attacks.
- The Center for Citizens’ Empowerment in Yerucham acted against cases of racism and incitement in the area. In one instance, a number of Arabs were denied entrance to a community bomb shelter. As a result, the Center asked the municipal rabbi to issue a statement saying it is against halacha to prevent Arabs from entering shelters.
- The Forum for Immigrant Families formed a hotline, staffed by professional therapists, to serve Russian-speaking families living under rocket attack. The hotline was formed during 2012’s Pillar of Smoke campaign, and an emergency grant from NIF allowed it to hire professionals, coordinate the hotline, and publicise it.
- Israeli Children, a project housed by ACRI, distributed information to refugees and migrant workers on how to protect themselves from Hamas rockets, as well as an explanation of the situation. They also organised a community event for these groups with the Tel Aviv municipality.
- After pressure from Shatil’s Center for Policy Change, the Ministry of Justice translated into Arabic marketing material that publicised the opening of a hotline to report instances of incitement. Shatil also then distributed this advertising throughout the Arab community.
Social & Economic Justice
- In another victory in the battle against women’s exclusion and segregation in the public sphere, a new government regulation will require all ministries to report on the actions they have taken to prevent women's exclusion. In a second step forward for women’s rights, a new amendment to the Equal Pay Law requires certain employers to publicly report wages according to gender, helping to close the gender wage gap in Israel.
- Kol BaRama, a public radio station in Israel, refused to employ women, feature women as anchors, or allow women to be interviewed or call in to its programs. But thanks to Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and Kolech – Religious Women’s Forum, the policy was found discriminatory and unjustified. The Jerusalem District Court ruling awarded damages against Kol BaRama.
- Women's images finally returned to bus ads in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh following a two-year campaign by Yerushalmim. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the Egged bus company could not exclude women from its ads. However, Egged found creative ways to evade the ruling leading to further petitions to the Court. According to the latest ruling, Egged, its ad agency, and the state have an agreement whereby the state will pay compensation for any acts of vandalism to ads featuring women.
- Following a long struggle by Itach-Maki (Women Lawyers for Social Justice), the ministerial committee passed a law that will reduce women's financial reliance on their husbands. According to the law, 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.
- Thousands of Israelis will be able to take a critical step out of poverty, thanks to the efforts of the SHATIL-led Public Housing Forum. Israel's Public Housing Law, passed in 1998, will finally be implemented due to the Forum's intensive advocacy work. Among other actions, the law requires the government to allow public housing residents to buy their apartments at a subsidised price after five years of residency.
- In September, a group of NIF-supported organisations won a yearlong battle against plans for new sprawling suburbs for the wealthy in the centre of the country at the expense of peripheral areas and Israel's open spaces. In addition to harming Israel's natural treasures, the government's plan would have furthered neglect for Israel's already struggling peripheral communities and city centres while pouring resources into new suburbs.
- Following a petition by ACRI and Itach-Maki, the Supreme Court has ordered the state to ensure that women and Arabs are fairly represented on the Israel Land Authority (ILA) Council. The ILA controls 93% of the land in Israel, and has huge input into land use decisions. At the time of the decision, there was only one woman and no Arabs serving on the ten-member Council.
Combatting Racism And Hatred
- Palestinian Israelis whose property has been damaged in a “Price Tag” hate crime will now be entitled to compensation under the Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law 1961. (“Price Tag” is the name given to vigilante actions by radical settlers against Arabs, leftists and even the army to exact a cost for the closure of illegal outposts or other actions found politically objectionable.) Until now, victims were not compensated because “Price Tag” attacks were deemed ‘racist attacks’ rather than ‘terrorist actions’ by government officials.
- Tag Meir (Light Tag Forum), a coalition heavily supported by NIF, continues to raise awareness about hate crimes and incitement, and provide support for Jewish and Palestinian victims of crimes. This year, Tag Meir organised condolence visits for the families of murdered Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khedeir, Jews murdered in the Har Nof synagogue in November, and also continued to advocate for the inclusion of anti-racism education in the school curriculum.
Challenging The Orthodox Monopoly
- Israel's High Court ruled that the state should no longer grant stipends to yeshiva students. The decision was based on a previous ruling that state scholarships to yeshiva students discriminated against students at secular universities, who were not eligible to receive government benefits during their studies. The decision followed a petition by several NIF grantees.
- Following a petition to the Supreme Court by 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, of which at least 31% of the representatives will be women.
- In a small success for religious freedom in Israel, a new conversion process will dramatically increase the number of rabbis who can perform conversions. Prior to the change, only 33 rabbis performed official conversions. Meanwhile, some 8% of Israel’s Jewish population – who made aliyah as Jews under the Law of Return, but are not Jewish according to Orthodox law – can’t marry in Israel or be buried in Jewish cemeteries. Unfortunately, the new process doesn’t allow for the recognition of Reform or Conservative conversions – a key demand pressed by NIF-backed organisations.