On Sunday, the board of directors of the New Israel Fund will gather in Tel Aviv
to chart the course for an increasingly visible organization that has worked to
advance equality and justice for every Israeli for almost 32 years.
core mission is to strengthen Israel’s democracy. A vibrant democracy demands
openness, not just in dialogue, but also in practices and policies. A strong
Israel, an Israel with the security to withstand external enemies and internal
divisions, also requires a civil society sector that advances the interests of
those whose voices are not often heard in the corridors of power.RELATED:A code of conduct for the New Israel Fund
founder and first funder of dozens of Israel’s most internationally
organizations, the New Israel Fund is accustomed to controversy. Many
that were cutting-edge when we first took them on are now supported by
mainstream, from the first battles for women’s rights to the passage of
legislation protecting the disabled from discrimination and exclusion.
support for organizations advancing human rights, and for those
rights for the Israeli Arab sector, has been a particular lightening
rod. It has
always provoked attacks from those who perpetrate the increasingly
that Israel can do no wrong, and that almost any criticism, however
Israeli policy or actions is somehow disloyal.
In a democracy, of course,
one is free to express any opinion, and the latest publicity stunt from
Monitor is just that, an opinion – and a partisan one at that.
familiar with NGO Monitor know it as a mouthpiece for a right-wing
“monitor” that never monitors settler, haredi or ultra-nationalist
only those with progressive values. And, of course, NGO Monitor is
entirely unmonitored. It does not appear to meet accepted standards for
transparency or accountability, and provides little information on its
governance or funding.
NIF, by contrast, is a responsible funder that
regularly reviews its principles, policies and funding decisions and
excellent ratings for transparency from Guidestar and other
oversight organizations. Our donors understand and support a vision of
which ideas and ideologies contend in an open space. Rather than
“delegitimizing” Israel, as the current buzzword has it, the hundreds of
and thousands of activists NIF supports emphatically legitimize Israel’s
to its place among Western, liberal democracies.
But that claim is
fraying. As much as NIF must focus on its own strategies and the
demands on its resources, we are even more concerned with the
tolerance of dissent in Israeli society. The recent survey by the Tami
Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University showing that more than
Jewish Israelis think there is “too much freedom of speech” is only the
the iceberg. As peaceful demonstrations are disrupted or forbidden by
police, as the rights of Israeli Arab citizens are called into question,
members of Knesset brazenly attempt to shut down progressive civil
have a lot more to worry about than sniping from organizations that
primarily to send out press releases.
THERE IS no question that Israel is
facing an increasingly hostile international environment. And some of
hostility is rooted in antagonism to Israel’s very existence, an
combat as fiercely as any organization that is rooted in a love for
in the belief in the best of Jewish values. But Israel must ask itself
some of its own policies – policies that the NIF family of organizations
critique and question – are contributing to Israel’s increasing
its friends and supporters. Israelis must recognize as well that the
toward authoritarian and anti-democratic sentiment is a profound threat
cohesion of Israeli society. Silencing opposition voices serves no one
who would see the Jewish and democratic state we support disintegrate
ultranationalist, extremist parody of the dreams of its founders.
tens of thousands of Israeli activists who participate in the social
organizations supported by NIF are patriots in the best sense of the
They call on their country, every day, to live up to its ideals, to
promote freedom, justice and equality for all its citizens, and to
settle for an Israel in which civil rights are subject to political
They are a critical component of what makes Israeli society strong
When these difficult days pass – and we have no doubt that
Israel has what it takes to get past them – it will be in part because
civil society didn’t give up or give in.
The naysayers of the world,
those for whom conformity of thought is a greater source of comfort than
democratic freedoms, may continue to seek headlines and attention at the
of Israel’s democracy.
We will continue to take responsibility for our
work, our choices, and our dedication to the Israel we know to be
To do anything less would be to turn our back on the country we
Daniel Sokatch is CEO, and Rachel Liel the executive director in
Israel, of the New Israel Fund.