We are all paying close attention to the situation unfolding in Gaza. Far too many are living in fear. Far too many have died. Soon, I pray, the fighting will end.
On the day after the fighting ends -- when Israelis again look inward –- I'm terrified that they will see a society filled with anger and pain, where extremism is the norm and dissent is not tolerated.
Right now we're hearing regular reports of marchers chanting "Death to Arabs," of anti-war protestors being attacked on the streets, and of incitement coming from Knesset Members.
In the midst of war, we are determined that Israelis can act now to defend Israel's character as a liberal democracy, and protect the promise of Israeli society as a place where all Israeli citizens -- Jews and Arabs -- are equal.
You and I know that the hate-filled vitriol we're now seeing in Israel didn't emerge overnight. Racism, incitement, and intolerance are longstanding problems. They've been exacerbated over the last several weeks by brutal murders, by mob violence, and now by raw emotions coming out of the conflict in Gaza.
Now, today, even as the fighting continues, NIF is working to build bridges. Because we know that this divide will only get worse unless it is addressed. We want to promote a truly shared society -- an Israel in which Jews and Arabs view each other not as threats, but as equals. Where protesters exercising their right of free speech are not mocked and beaten. Where all Israelis have a stake in a shared future.
We are looking at what kind of society Israel will have the morning after the fighting stops.
Over the past few difficult weeks, NIF has made tens of thousands of dollars of Emergency Grants to organizations working to build a better Israel. Here are some examples of what organizations we support have done.
- Placed security guards near bomb shelters to ensure Arab citizens are not barred from entry.
- Helped Jewish Israelis host their Bedouin neighbors for a shared break-fast when the Jewish fast day of the 17th of Tammuz coincided with Ramadan.
- Provided transportation to bring Jewish shoppers to the market of the Arab town of Tira when we knew that tensions might keep the usual shoppers away.
- Drew thousands of Israelis to rallies against calls of "revenge" after the bodies of Israel terror victims were discovered.
- Petitioned the Israeli High Court to ensure that Bedouin Israelis were offered the same protection from rocket attacks as their Jewish neighbors.
This is not an easy time for tolerance and decency in Israel. We're trying to change that by identifying and supporting the activists who are making a difference.
A key tool for this work has been NIF's Emergency Grant program, which relies on funds we set aside at the start of every year to respond to unforeseen circumstances. But we've nearly exhausted those funds responding to this crisis.
We anticipate now that we will need to allocate an additional $100,000 or more from our emergency pool for initiatives to foster unity and fight extremism as the war goes on. If you are moved to help support these activities, please click here.
The question before us is clear:
- Will Israelis emerge from this crisis with the chance of rebuilding an open, tolerant and shared society?
- Or will Israelis emerge from this crisis fearful and distrustful of their fellow citizens, incited by calls for exclusion and violence?
Rabbi Brian Lurie Daniel Sokatch, CEO
President of the Board New Israel Fund
New Israel Fund