Flying home from Tel Aviv the other day, after the conclusion of NIF’s winter board meeting, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ways in which things have changed for our Israel and our organization over the past two years. (Well, actually, first I watched “Moneyball,” which was excellent, and THEN I thought about Israel and NIF…).
On the most basic level, we are a stronger organization today than we were in the winter of 2009, on the eve of what our Board Chair Naomi Chazan calls the “democratic recession” in Israel. Our growth is the silver lining in what has been an otherwise bleak two years for the liberal democratic values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I don’t have to recount here the proposed committees of inquiry into human rights groups, the ongoing torrent of anti-democratic legislation, the attempts by some to exclude women from the public sphere… The NIF community is all-too familiar with the depressing details.
And yet there is a great cause for hope. The last six months have witnessed a growing and powerful pushback against these challenges to Israel’s democratic values. Hundreds of thousands marched for social justice over the course of the “Israeli Summer” of 2011. Israelis of conscience from across the political spectrum and their supporters around the world spoke out against the bad bills. The issue of women’s exclusion became, largely because of the work of NIF and some of our grantees, the cause celebre for much of the Jewish world in the early days of 2012.
Our recent Board meeting was an analysis and a celebration of these developments, and a clear-eyed conversation about the way forward. Together we examined the changing landscape of an Israel transformed both by the challenges to democracy and also by the ongoing reverberations of the social justice movement. We discussed how to make NIF’s contribution to building civil society and strengthening Israeli democracy ever-more effective. We met with the United States Ambassador to Israel to hear his perspective. We embraced, proudly, our role in defending liberal Israeli values.
But for me, the heart of the week and the greatest example of what has changed for the positive in Israel and for NIF these past six months, was not even an official meeting session. Rather, it was the welcoming celebration, last Tuesday night, for the newest Israeli members of NIF’s International Council (IC). Our Israeli IC, led by Board Member and IC Co-chair Talia Sasson, is now a beautiful and powerful reflection of NIF in Israel.
This is who we are now: We are former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair, and former Deputy Attorney General Judith Karp. We are former Finance Minister Beiga Shochat. We are Brigadier Generals Israela Oron and Ilan Paz. We are artists Ronny Someck and Doron Tsabari. We are 2004 Nobel Laureate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover. We are writer Amos Oz, who, asked why he was joining our IC answered, “I want to help,” and warned he would likely be attacked for his support answered, “let them attack.” We are six Israel Prize winners. We are scores of professors, businesspeople, lawyers, activists, high-tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, philanthropists. We love Israel. We are Israel. And, along with our thousands of supporters around the world, we are NIF.