A typical week at the New Israel Fund?

The exclusion of women from the public sphere is still front-page news in Israeli and even American newspapers. The “Law to Prevent Infiltration” passed the Knesset, enabling imprisonment for three years without trial of asylum seekers, refugees and their children. And with unusual honesty, a leader of the religious settler community announced that it is time for Israeli democracy to be disassembled and replaced by Jewish law.

At the same time, a coalition of New Israel Fund groups successfully challenged a religious conference on female fertility where women experts were forbidden to speak. Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis protested housing discrimination in Kiryat Malachi. Much of the anti-democratic legislation targeting the judiciary, the media and the NIF family of progressive organizations has stalled.

Daniel Sokatch handed me his column this week to mark my seven years as Director of Communications at the New Israel Fund, running communications and public affairs. (Biblically speaking, I think he was supposed to hand me a year off, but that doesn’t seem likely.) While I’m grateful for the opportunity to write a personal statement, the usual difficulties of this job are surfacing. With so many issues, so much good news and bad news to report and analyze, so many stories of our work in Israel to describe, what gets said? What gets left out?

If you’re a long-time supporter of NIF, you remember our days as a rather quiet, behind-the-scenes organization founding and funding Israel’s progressive social change organizations. If you’ve paid attention the last two years, you know the startling change we’ve undergone, as we now lead a battle on many fronts to preserve and strengthen Israeli democracy and build a just and pluralistic society. That transition means that our mission is more important than ever – and that we have become the favorite target of the ultranationalist, extremist right, in Israel and beyond.

Never mind what that means on a day-to-day basis (you shouldn’t know from my problems.) Most important is that the choices we make about policy and outreach and public advocacy mean much more now. The New Israel Fund represents a broad swath of Israeli society, with diverse interests and viewpoints, united by common values. We fund, we assist, we convene, we build coalitions, we lead some charges and we enable organizations and activists to lead others. We make space for people whose voices aren’t often heard. We will never be what people in my line of work describe as easily “branded” because the responsibility we’ve taken on – to help build a pluralistic Israel that reflects the best universal and Jewish values – is as complex as can be.

So, we choose. For every story we tell you, there are another five that there just isn’t space or time to recount. For every Action Alert we send you, disturbing the peace and quiet of your inbox, we have considered three others. For every critic that attacks the New Israel Fund, usually because of ideological agendas profoundly different from our own, we can respond or not, point out the facts again or let honest people discover them for themselves. When we’re on the front page of the New York Times, I’m having a very good day. And when Arutz Sheva, the news channel of the settler movement, is claiming to have “discovered” material that’s been on our website for years to try to clobber us again, well, as Daniel says, if they’re not angry with us, we’re not doing our job.

But the challenges are worth it, and here’s why.

I’ve lived in Washington, DC for a long time, and we public affairs types are a cynical lot. At some point a few years back, I went out with a bunch of my fellow PRniks, most of whom I knew from previous jobs.

They asked me about NIF, and about Israel. I answered. And answered. And answered. Finally, an old colleague looked at me quizzically and said, Naomi, in this line of work we make the Kool-Aid. We don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Well, I’m proud to have a job that doesn’t entail cynicism and professional distance. I’m lucky to work for an organization that reflects my progressive values and my lifelong and passionate dedication to Israel, alongside other Americans equally dedicated. And I’m deeply grateful for my Israeli colleagues, they who have already flooded my inbox with more news and more stories and more issues by the time I wake up at 6 AM, because they, on the ground, are making it all happen.

And I’m thankful for, as we Philadelphians say, you guys too. Thank you for keeping us going, thank you for your interest and support and those thoughtful emails you send us, and if you’ve made it this far, thank you sincerely for reading this.

You’ll be hearing from us again soon.

 Naomi Paiss

Communications Director

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