News & Media Articles

It Takes a Rocket Scientist

05 May 2009 By New Israel Fund

Last week, Hagai El-Ad, the Executive Director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), visited Washington, DC.  As our regular readers surely know, ACRI is Israel’s preeminent civil rights organization.   Indeed, ACRI, which was established in 1972 and modeled on the ACLU, is one of the few human rights organizations in Israel whose existence predates NIF’s. 

For 30 years now, ACRI has been NIF’s flagship grantee, using public advocacy and litigation as vehicles for ensuring that the rights of all Israelis are protected.   In addition to our being ACRI’s largest donor, ACRI has benefitted from many SHATIL training programs and has participated in many of the coalitions organized by NIF/SHATIL regarding specific issues.  And, many of the lawyers who have served on ACRI’s staff have benefitted from the Law Fellows program co-sponsored by NIF and the Washington College of Law since 1984.

Hagai El-Ad

Hagai assumed his current position less than 12 months ago.  An astrophysicist by training, Hagai left a doctorate program at Harvard in the mid-1990’s to assume a leadership role with the Jerusalem Open House, which he grew into a formidable organization representing the LGBT community in Israel.  Along with many others, his efforts contributed to the progressive changes in Israeli law, including prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and the recognition for various purposes of same-sex partners. 

In selecting Hagai to lead ACRI, the ACRI Board was directing the organization toward a more public role, as opposed to reliance primarily on using the courts.  In addition to his respected voice in Israel, Hagai contributes periodically to the Huffington PostHis most recent posting placed in proper context the Israeli High Court decision prohibiting torture.  Yes, the legal rhetoric of the court’s decision is quite soaring, and has been often quoted, including by jurists in this country, but as ACRI and others have documented, the Israeli government has not adhered to the Court’s admonitions. Sadly, torture is more frequent than one would expect in a country where the High Court has been so clear regarding the evils of the practice. 

Speaking with Hagai, one appreciates the passion he and the entire ACRI team bring to their jobs.  As he said explicitly, he is a proud Israeli and he wants his country’s practices to reflect international human rights norms.   The fact that others use ACRI reports to single out Israel for condemnation in international forums should not provide an excuse for ACRI soft-pedaling its mission.  And with people like Hagai leading the organization, we should feel confident that Israel has an active civil society that is monitoring government actions and promoting equality for all Israeli citizens. 

As this is national poetry month, I also want to draw attention to a new anthology entitled “With an Iron Pen: Twenty years of Hebrew Protest Poetry”, edited by Tal Nitzan and Rachel Tzvia Back. The anthology offers English speakers a cultural/literary window into prominent Israeli voices of protest of the ongoing occupation. And the publisher, SUNY Press will extend a 40 percent discount off the retail price of $14.95 to NIF donors, who place an order through the following toll free number: (800) 666-2211, use the promotion code ZWIP