Dear friend --
The year that is drawing to a close brought increased uncertainty in the Middle East but it has also seen dramatic, positive developments within Israel.
What started with one grew quickly to tens, then hundreds, then thousands, culminating in over 400,000 Israelis - of all ethnic origins, all ages, all religions and none – participating in the biggest demonstration in Israel’s history, chanting together “The People Demand Social Justice.”
There is greater recognition now that, despite the excellent performance of the economy, the gap between the 'haves' and the ‘have-nots’ of Israeli society has grown unacceptably large, that the equality and social solidarity that was once a distinctive characterisitic of Israeli society has been progressively undermined.
Despite the many challenges that continue to face Israel in the region, there has been a flowering of renewed concern with social justice – the need to ensure equality, basic human dignity and a fair and democratic society. And Israel and supporters of Israel can justly be proud of that.
It is a credit too to the New Israel Fund, which has identified and championed such issues for years, and will continue to do so long after the tent cities have all been packed up.
Isi Leibler has been a dedicated Zionist for his entire career. I know that he loves Israel and is dedicated to its future. So am I. Which is why, next June, after a career that has included stints running the national UJA and a major Federation, I will become the next chair of the New Israel Fund.
“I am taking this on as the capstone of my career because I believe that the New Israel Fund is the most important organization helping Israel realize its founding principles. And thus I must address recent attacks on the New Israel Fund, including that of Mr. Leibler’s (“The Two Faces of the New Israel Fund” September 15.)
First, it’s important to understand that Mr. Leibler’s viewpoints are embedded in a right-wing ideology, one which I’m sure he thinks necessary to ensure Israel’s survival. That said, his writings exculpating settler behavior, attacking other progressive organizations and supporting problematically anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset are a matter of record.
He should have, however, in praising NGO Monitor, acknowledged that he is on the board of International Overseers and chairs the Israel-Diaspora Committee of the Jerusalem Council on Public Affairs, the body that founded NGO Monitor. Perhaps relying overmuch on that organization, which has long justified its existence by targeting the New Israel Fund, many of Mr. Leibler’s facts are wrong.Read more
Ha'aretz reports on a victory for New Israel Fund grantee Adalah:
An Israeli Arab couple from Sakhnin won a six-year battle yesterday to build a home in the Galilee community of Rakefet when the High Court of Justice ordered its community association and the Israel Lands Administration to provide them with a plot of land within 90 days.
The couple, Fatina and Ahmed Zabeidat, had been rejected twice by the Rakefet community association in their bid to move to the Jewish Misgav area village but they were told that they were not compatible with the life of the community. [...]
Suad Bishara, an attorney for of Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights, expressed the hope that the Zabeidats' case would buttress prospects for the court to invalidate the admissions committee law itself. "We regret that the couple had to go through about six years of legal battle after they were not accepted into the community just because of their Arab background," the lawyer added.
The plan outlines implementation of the Goldberg Commission Report of 2008 to deal with the problem of unrecognized villages and the Bedouin community in the Negev. Rather than recognizing the systemic violations of the rights of the Bedouin, the Prawer plan continues the discrimination of one of the most disenfranchised communities in Israel, during a period in which a mass Israeli protest movement has been calling for social justice for all citizens.
The Prawer Plan, which was prepared without representatives of the unrecognized villages, will lead to the unnecessary uprooting of tens of thousands of Bedouin from their homes, in clear violation of their historical and proprietary rights. An alternative master plan, submitted by the Regional Council of Unrecognized Bedouin Villages and Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights, proposes to keep all 35 unrecognized villages intact and to connect them to infrastructure and services, while saving Israel massive amounts of resources necessary for uprooting villages that have existed since before the State was established.
ACRI is working vis-à-vis policy makers to ensure that this plan is implemented, rather than the Prawer plan. Only a plan based on respect for the human rights of the Bedouin population and that includes them in the process will bring about a lasting solution for all residents of the Negev, both Arabs and Jews.
For more information on the Prawer Plan, you can consult this ACRI policy brief. You can also view an alternative position, written by ACRI with Bimkom, and the Regional Council of Unrecognized Bedouin Villages, which proposes "a just solution that will resolve one of Israel's most painful examples of ongoing systematic violation of human rights, and one of the most stubborn open conflicts between the state and its citizens."
If you would like to receiving continuing updates from ACRI about the Prawer Plan and other civil rights issues in Israel, subscribe to ACRI's mailing list.
You can now download a copy (PDF) of NIF's Recent Achievements flyer, August 2011 edition. This includes:
- Israel's Affordable Housing Protest Catches Fire
- Shavuot Tikkun Encompasses the Entire Spectrum of Israel Society
- Knesset Rejects “Investigation” of Human Rights Groups
- ACRI Wins Prestigious US Human Rights Award
- Israeli Government Recognizes Civil Marriages
- Racism Declines in Israeli Soccer
Dr Ron Weiser has made a number of incorrect and misleading public statements about NIF this year and his latest article in J-Wire contains more.
NIF has expressly based itself, from its foundation in 1979 to the present day, on Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which speaks unequivocally of a Jewish state that is also democratic and does not discriminate against minorities, Jewish or non-Jewish.
That commitment is a matter of record, was restated publicly on several occasions by Prof Naomi Chazan, speaking as President of NIF, during her visit this year to Australia and was underlined by her in highly public fashion at the Sydney Opera House in June when, again speaking as NIF’s President, she emphatically rejected the Palestinian speakers’ demands for a Palestinian right of physical return, because implementation of a physical right of return could mean the end of the Jewish State and “we are not in the business of committing suicide”.
It is simply not correct to say, as Dr Weiser does, that the statement NIF issued this week is “a first and is a radical departure from previous NIF positions” or that NIF’s Australian branch needs to be convinced “to also come on board with the same vision”.
Six weeks ago, four representatives of NIFAu explained NIF’s longstanding support for a Jewish democratic state in detail at a open meeting with Dr Weiser and I then sent him a lengthy email (see below) which referred to the Opera House debate, listed other similarly emphatic public and private statements by both NIF and NIFAu in support of a democratic Jewish state, and concluded on this topic with the following words:
"Now that you have read the above analysis of the NIF principle [stated on NIF’s website], and been reminded of these multiple public statements, I trust you will not assert again, as you did at Emanuel Synagogue on 17 July, that NIF or NIFAu does not support Israel as the Jewish State.
You also agreed at our meeting last Thursday that if we do support Israel as the Jewish State, we are within your red line, from which it follows that disagreements between us and you about whether or not NIF should be funding certain grantees – there are sure to be some – should fairly be characterised as disagreements between well-intentioned people about what is the best way to support Israel as the Jewish State. I hope that will be acknowledged by you in any future discussion you participate in about NIF or NIFAu."
Mercifully, in his latest comment, Dr Weiser has at last conceded that NIF does support a Jewish state and is thus within his only “so called red line”.
Now that this “red line” sideshow is over, we in Australia will continue to support the important work that NIF does as the leading organisation committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis. Recent developments in Israeli civil society offer encouragement and renewed hope in that regard.
Robin Margo S.C.
President, New Israel Fund (Australia)
Full text of e-mail from Robin Margo to Ron Weiser:
In response to the Wikileaks cable recounting a February 2010 discussion about pending anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, the New Israel Fund issued this statement.
This New Israel Fund Australia ad ran in this week's Australian Jewish News in both Melbourne and Sydney:
In just over a week, on September 3, one million Israelis are expected to go out into the streets to stand for values that we also believe in -- social justice, equality and democracy.
Here’s our chance to show them we are aware and care: NIF is collecting signatures from supporters of Israel worldwide, to be published in a large circulation Israeli newspaper the day before the scheduled demonstration.Read more