The Ins and Outs of Israel02 October 2013
Although anti-Zionists claim that Israel will always be an ethnocentric society that cannot help but exclude and discriminate, we at NIF reject that. For all of its complexities, there’s nothing about the makeup of Israel that leads inexorably to racism.Add a comment
Briefing on Israeli High Court ruling on Asylum Seekers02 October 2013
In September, Israel's High Court struck down a law that imprisoned asylum seekers for years without trial. The ruling was a big win for Israeli democracy.Add a comment
Good Luck, Martin08 August 2013
August 8, 2013
Last week, the news was dominated by Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement of the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And now, once again, the world waits to see if, at last, real progress can be made in resolving the conflict and arriving at a two-state solution.
It isn't an easy wait.
According to the polls, most Israelis aren't feeling particularly optimistic about the potential for peace. The blogosphere is full of predictions of the failure of the nascent process. And even as talks resume, the Israeli government announces that it will extend its subsidization of a number of settlements by adding them to the so-called National Priority list (even as many struggling communities actually in the State of Israel are left off the list).
None of this seems conducive to creating a positive atmosphere for the new peace talks.
And yet . . . Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in many ways the spiritual father of the Jewish social justice movement of which NIF is a part, warned of the "heresy of despair," and indeed urged the active "defiance of despair." Defying despair doesn't mean pollyannishly ignoring the very real challenges that the forces of peace and justice face at this juncture. It doesn't mean understating the difficulty of the task. And, even harder, it doesn't mean allowing the hope that peace may at last be on the horizon to turn our attention from our critical work of supporting those Israelis who work to hold their country accountable to the highest ideals of Jewish tradition, liberal democracy and international human rights. Even when what they have to say and report can sometimes seem to spoil our hopes for the peace process, their work is ever more important, especially in the face of extreme opposition from the radical ultranationalists.
Luckily, the forces of peace and justice have an asset even Heschel didn't anticipate: Ambassador Martin Indyk. Even though it means he will step down from his long-time position on NIF's board in order to serve, I'm very happy and extraordinarily proud that Secretary Kerry has named Martin to serve as the special envoy to the peace talks, and as leader of the American team. Martin has devoted much of his career to pursuing peace between Israel and its neighbors, and he is a tireless advocate for an Israel that lives up to the vision of its founders. He has served as a wise, passionate and committed NIF board member and he has helped our organization go from strength to strength.
Beyond all of this, he is a mensch, a man who practices what he preaches, and who does not give up easily. If there is anyone who can carry out this almost-impossible job, I know it is Martin. I know you join me and the rest of the NIF family in wishing him strength, patience and success. Godspeed, Martin. We are all counting on you.
Court-ing a Better Israel18 September 2013
5774 is still very young, but when it comes to the integrity and independence of Israel's judicial system, the year is off to a pretty good start.Add a comment
The Unbroken Camera24 July 2013
July 24, 2013
This past Friday, our friend and colleague Sarit Michaeli was shot with a rubber-coated bullet. Sarit is the spokesperson for B'tselem, Israel's leading human rights organization in the occupied territories and an NIF grantee. She was wounded as she filmed and monitored a regularly-held demonstration at Nabi Saleh near Ramallah in the West Bank. The circumstances surrounding the shooting are deeply concerning. You can read Sarit's account of what happened here, and you can see a video of the incident that Sarit herself filmed. As you'll see, Sarit is tough and brave, and she's recovering well. I warn you, though: the video is rather graphic and, for some, tough to watch. We've called for the military investigate this incident immediately.
B'Tselem and the volunteers it equips with video cameras have documented conflicts between West Bank Palestinians, the IDF, the border police and the settlers for many years. That effort has been invaluable in calling attention to the inevitable violence and human rights violations entailed by a 46-year occupation. And, although high-ranking army officials have themselves depended on B'Tselem's documentation for evidence, it goes without saying that there are those who would prefer that events on the West Bank remained undocumented and indeed invisible to Israelis and to the rest of the world.
Only a week ago, a B'Tselem video chronicled the detention of a five-year-old boy and his father, in contravention of the army's own regulations.
And increasingly, hardliners have been repeating the new trope that these kinds of monitoring activities - the kind Sarit was shot performing - serve to "undermine" and weaken the IDF. In a country where the army is a beloved institution, this a serious charge indeed. It is also a false one. As we know (and as I wrote recently in Ha'aretz), holding a democracy's institutions accountable to universal human rights norms and the basic tenets of democratic society does not serve to undermine those institutions. Rather, it serves to strengthen and preserve democracy.
That's the work of B'tselem and our other human rights grantees. Their job is to hold a mirror up to their society, and ask the hard questions about what kind of country Israel is going to be. New Israel Fund was one of the founding organizations of B'Tselem many years ago, and we continue to be a funder and partner of B'Tselem now. We are proud of their record, their video documentation project and their personal and professional bravery. Documenting the human rights environment in the Occupied Territories is absolutely necessary for a democracy that is legally and morally responsible for daily life on the West Bank. B'Tselem's heroic efforts represent the very best Jewish and universal values, and the very best of Israel.
I know you join me in wishing Sarit a refuah shelma, a complete recovery, and in offering support to the guardians of Israel's democratic soul.