All of us are breathing a sigh of relief now, as Wednesday's ceasefire appears to be holding, ending a dreadful week of violence. I've heard from our staff in the Beer Sheva office. They tell me that life there is slowly returning to the pre-war routine.
The war exposed deep inequalities within Israeli society and a shocking level of anti-democratic vitriol. There is an urgent need, today, to respond: to ensure that all Israelis are able to get back to a normal life and to protect against a rising tide of extremism. This is about equality and about democracy. This is about the kind of place that Israel is.
Many of us heard NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch speak during his visit to Australia in June. You can read here a report Daniel sent us this week from Israel about some of the work being done by Shatil and NIF, its partners and grantees during the current fighting.
We have learned since of further NIF supported activity, including grants to the Conservative youth movement, Noa’m, to the Reform movement schools and youth, to community organisations in Ofakim and the Bedouin town of Rahat, and to Bina (at Merchavim Chevra Lechinuch Vetarbut) activists and volunteers, to fund activities for children in shelters, respite visits from the south to places like Haifa, Tel Aviv and Modi’in, clean up of property damaged by missile strikes, and packages for children in the south, for families unable to work their fields, and for soldiers and reservists near the Gaza strip.
Israel has an indisputable right, indeed obligation, to protect all its citizens, of every religion and ethnicity, against attack. But this fresh outbreak of extensive violence, only four years after Operation Cast Lead, reemphasises that political solutions, not merely military means, are needed to secure Israel’s long term peace and security.
We are concerned about the millions of Israelis and Palestinians living in fear in the conflict zone and the growing number of civilian casualties. In the densely populated region of Gaza and southern/coastal Israel, civilian casualties are both tragic and inevitable, and additional reason to hope that a sustainable ceasefire may be achieved soon.
As the leading supporter of Israel’s human rights community, NIF is proud that the IDF, in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, used reports from Israeli human rights organisations to change its operational procedures better to protect civilian lives and property, and we hope that those changes and observance by the IDF of its own code of conduct will now save lives.
The right to think critically and independently is often a casualty of war, even in a democracy. After Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s human rights community were threatened and vilified and it is happening again from the usual quarters. As in conflict anywhere, it is the responsibility of human rights groups to monitor and report, and it is their right and everyone’s to offer opinions regarding the conduct of the conflict. While NIF does not necessarily agree with the positions of every one of the many organisations it supports, it staunchly defends their right to do their jobs, to dissent from the majority if that is indicated by their own analyses, and to point out any controversial issues of concern.
The New Israel Fund’s mission, of fostering the values of equality, freedom and justice, is made more difficult in wartime. With the help of its supporters in Australia and worldwide, NIF will continue to support the Israelis who need it most, to speak out for the best universal and Jewish values, and to work on the ground for the Israel we all believe to be possible.
Robin Margo President, New Israel Fund Australia Foundation
This year, the New Israel Fund has produced a magazine for Yom Kippur that is being distributed across synagogues throughout Israel, as well as through Haaretz.
This year, the articles are written by members if the NIF’s International Council who are using this traditional day for soul-searching to discuss difficult issues which Israeli society is facing -- the country's borders, the need to protect human rights, the economic system and more.
The directors and volunteers of the New Israel Fund Australia Foundation wish you and all those close to you L’Shana Tovah and G’mar Hatimah Tovah. May the year 5773 see progress towards greater inclusion, equity, justice and peace in Australia, Israel and throughout the world.
One of Israel’s leading human rights champions, Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), will make his first visit to Australia next month for a speaking tour on behalf of the New Israel Fund.
Robin Margo, NIF Australia president, said: “The Association of Civil Rights in Israel is the New Israel Fund’s largest grantee and its work goes to the heart of NIF’s purpose. We are therefore delighted to have Hagai El-Ad come to Australia to tell us first hand about ACRI’s work safeguarding fundamental democratic principles and human rights in Israel.”
Much has been written this past week on Breaking the Silence, one of NIF’s many grantees. The crux of what they do has been obscured however in the fog of debate about this or that modus operandi or whether a particular press story was sufficiently contextualised.
New Israel Fund of Australia co-patron, Martin Indyk, said this to a gathering of NIF supporters in Sydney this week:
(Executive Council of Australian Jewry President) Dr (Danny) Lamm insinuates that the testimonies published by Breaking the Silence are not credible, suggesting that they are manufactured by the organization “solely for their propaganda effect.” The anonymity of the testimonies and the fact that they are allegedly “untested by any kind of cross-questioning” is his sole evidence.
Breaking the Silence is an organization of over 850 Israeli veterans – male and female combat soldiers and officers who served in the IDF in the harshest days of the last decade. Our publications meet the highest standards of investigative journalism. All unusual and exceptional testimonies must be corroborated by two independent sources before publication; and anonymity, as every journalist knows, is a condition for exposure of wrong-doing. As any visitor to the website can see, dozens of veterans have in fact testified without anonymity, their names and faces revealed on camera.