Activists bring social justice issues to municipal elections - New Israel Fund Australia

Thanks to Shatil, activists bring social justice issues to Israel's municipal elections

Photo: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

More local councils around the country will be equipped to promote democracy, social justice and shared society issues as a result of Shatil's focus on the municipal elections this year. Shatil, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, is NIF's action arm in Israel.

Seven new local council members who won seats in the October 22 elections were trained in Shatil's pre-election leadership courses for social change in the local authorities. Ten other course graduates, who decided to run after taking the course, did not win their bids for municipal council seats, but raised important progressive issues during their campaigns. Eleven new Ethiopian Israelis are now city council members and all of them attended Shatil trainings. At least one course graduate completely changed the discourse in his city around tolerance vis a vis the gay community.

All in all, 52 activists graduated from four trainings and many more attended a range of workshops focused on leveraging the elections to promote issues such as religious pluralism, environmental protection and social housing.

Following a series of Shatil trainings focusing on the Ethiopian community, four Ethiopian-Israeli local council members were re-elected, while eleven new council members were elected for a total of 15 Ethiopian-Israeli council members. All but one of them took part in the Shatil trainings leading up to the elections.

Twenty-nine-year-old Shimi Sharon made history by becoming the first openly gay candidate for city council in Rishon LeZion, one of Israel’s oldest cities. Shimi decided to run after taking the Shatil training. He did not win the election but he managed to win the hearts of many in his city of 240,000 and stimulated interest in and discussion about the city’s gay community for the first time.

Shimi said the Shatil course, run in collaboration with the Heschel Center, Shacharit, the Social Economic Academy and the Social Guard (Mishmar Hevrati), was “one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

“Just by running as an openly gay person, I changed things in Rishon,” he says. “The media covered my race non-stop so the public discourse was suddenly full of talk of tolerance and pluralism – just what I wanted. People are waking up to the existence, needs and rights of the gay community.”

Says Shay Cherpanov, a Shatil public policy expert who co-facilitated one of the Shatil's leadership trainings: “We discovered that good people all over Israel were just waiting for someone to come and give them the knowledge and tools to become publicly involved. Our task is to continue to identify these wonderful people, to equip them with tools and to guide them in their journey toward leadership.”