These are tough but also inspiring times for progressive supporters of Israel. Those of us who cherish the forward-thinking, outward-looking, democratic and prophetic vision enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence work to protect this vision from proponents of harsh, exclusionary ultra-nationalism. 2010 saw a raft of anti-democratic bills, still pending in the Knesset, that would require loyalty oaths for non-Jews, de-fund and demonize human rights organizations, and strip non-Orthodox rabbis of the authority to preside over State-recognized conversions. And just yesterday, the Knesset plenum approved the proposal of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate Israeli human rights organizations that monitor IDF actions.
All of this is terribly worrying, but there is hope: more and more people who care deeply about Israel are beginning to pay attention, and they are speaking up and speaking out. Last week, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a staunch defender of Israel, warned of the growing threat in a piece entitled “What if Israel Ceases to be a Democracy?” Today in Israel, Likud leader Benny Begin, in an amazing interview on a popular radio program, defended the New Israel Fund and some of our grantees by name, cited the accomplishments of our work and condemned the new attempt to “investigate” the human rights community.
So, even as some in Israel work to change Israel’s status as a liberal democracy, others work just as hard to defend and preserve it. Last week disgraced former President Katsav was convicted of rape and obstruction of justice. The verdict, while sobering, was a victory both for Israel’s independent judiciary and also for the NIF-supported women’s organizations that have stubbornly kept the issue of sexual harassment on the public agenda.
I know that the challenges of 2010 did not end with the calendar year. The fight for the Israel we believe in continues in 2011 – and it’s going to get harder. Thank you for standing with us in the past, and please help us say yes to a better Israel in the near – and challenging – future.