Right of Reply: A record to be proud of

Justice and equality have been the basis of the Ford Foundation’s work, and will continue in our partnership with the New Israel Fund in 3 years.

By AARON ISSAR BACK
April 19, 2011 23:51
4 minute read.
New Israel Fund

New Israel Fund logo 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Jerusalem Post readers deserve a more factual and balanced understanding of the funding provided through the Ford Foundation- New Israel Fund partnership than was offered by the skewed and erroneous April 13 opinion piece entitled “Good Riddance to the Ford Foundation,” by Seth J. Frantzman.

A factual review would demonstrate that the major charge presented there – that the funding agenda of the partnership is focused on “sectarian causes, which is to say Israeli Arabs and Palestinians” – is untrue.

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If supporting a national network of citizen rights centers in dozens of underprivileged and marginalized communities is “sectarian,” we stand convicted. If our support of “narrow” causes is reflected in the funding we provide to human-rights organizations who just last week won a High Court of Justice ruling stipulating that migrant workers legally residing in Israel should not have to choose between employment and motherhood, then here, too, we are proud to be found “guilty” of that accomplishment.

Some additional issues funded by the partnership over the years, as approved by the New Israel Fund board, have included advancing affordable housing for all Israelis; promoting religious freedom and pluralism; developing the field of public-interest law; promoting social and economic justice for poor and underprivileged communities; supporting research on the social impact of the national budget, and promoting analysis identifying the widening social and economic gaps in Israeli society and practical ways to reduce them. These grants, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, have supported the interests of the entire Israeli population. One is hard-pressed to understand how these issues may be considered “narrow” or “sectarian.”

IN 33 years, the New Israel Fund has seed-funded almost every significant progressive NGO in Israel, and the NIF family is responsible for significant accomplishments, from the establishment of the first rape crisis centers to the law prohibiting discrimination against the disabled. This is why Ford selected NIF as its partner, and it’s why the strategic grant-making has been so effective.

It is true that the partnership, because of its focus on Israel’s most vulnerable populations, does have a longstanding interest in supporting efforts to advance equality for Arab Israelis. However, to criticize this support as reflecting sectarian interests misses the point, which is that the efforts to advance any marginal or vulnerable community is in the interest of the entire society. The Orr Commission almost 10 years ago concluded that the state failed to “budget resources on an equal basis to the (Arab) sector... and did not... do enough to promote equality in the Arab sector and did not act to uproot the phenomenon of discrimination.”

It further urged the government to improve the lives of Arab Israelis through more equal budgetary allocations. Any student of political science can tell you that when a minority community experiences discriminatory policies and inequities, polarization and conflict are the most likely outcome, with the social cohesion of the entire country suffering as a result.

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It is only a narrow-minded worldview that sees supporting equality for minority populations – or human rights, for that matter – as a sectarian interest. A more open-minded and constructive perspective, and one that guides our grant-making, is that the entire society benefits to the degree to which all citizens are treated equally and have equal opportunities. Our grantees know this better than any, which is why we were pleased to have recently supported the efforts of Arab Israelis, Russian immigrants and Mizrahi Jews who, refusing to frame their interests as mutually exclusive, came together to advance policies that would promote the interests of all.

Underlying our grant-making is the belief that empowered civil societies, in which citizens have the opportunity and ability to advance the interests of their communities, is a reflection of a strong and vibrant democracy. Israel’s civil society is now mature, and whether the NGOs exercising their rights represent disabled senior citizens, youth at risk in development towns, Jews in the liberal denominations seeking official recognition from the ultra-Orthodox hierarchy, or yes, Arab Israelis attempting to equalize their opportunities, we are proud that the New Israel Fund supports their exercise of the most fundamental rights in a democracy. Indeed, it is their commitment to a more just and equitable society that allows Israel to portray itself as a fully democratic state, contrary to the accusations of its adversaries.

Promoting values of justice and equality have been the basis of our work to date, and will continue through the end of this iteration of our partnership in three years. We hope then to look back in pride to see the gains made by the many committed individuals – Jewish and Arab – whose efforts, supported in part by the partnership, have contributed to making Israel a more just, equal and democratic society. Doubtlessly, the New Israel Fund will expand its own work, with new supporters, to “make a better Israel.” Indeed, the best antidote to anyone who wishes “good riddance” to foundations such as ours is the unfailing effort of Israelis working daily to have their country live up to its own highest aspirations.

The writer directs the Ford Israel Fund, the grant-making partnership between the Ford Foundation and the New Israel Fund.

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