We offer our support to those in Israel who are determined to preserve its character as a pluralistic, tolerant society
By LOUIS NEWMAN and CINDY REICH
Many of us who love Israel and care deeply about its future are worried, and with good reason. Of course, there are existential threats to Israel’s survival — the nuclear threat from Iran, the threat from terrorists and the countries that harbor them, and the threat from more vocal anti-Semitism around the world that seems to bleed into vilification of Israel.
All these threats are real, but they are not what worries us most. Today, as many Israeli analysts and military leaders have acknowledged, the greatest threats to Israel are internal rather than external.
These threats may be less dramatic and easier to ignore, but that only makes them more dangerous. Consider the following:
- 50 percent of Israeli Jewish teens today do not believe non-Jews should be equal before the law;
- non-Orthodox Jews in Israel today, more than 60 years after the state’s founding, still do not have the same legal rights and their rabbis do not have the same recognition as Orthodox institutions and leaders do;
- the gap between rich and poor in Israel continues to grow and now is among the largest in the industrialized world, at the same time affordable housing is less available and the social safety net less extensive than at any time in Israel’s history;
- the legal rights of Arab citizens of Israel, who represent 20 percent of the total population, are regularly violated, even as their schools receive less funding than Jewish schools and their communities receive less government support than Jewish towns;
- the forces of religious intolerance within Israel have grown louder and challenges to basic human rights and civil liberties, which we American Jews take for granted, are increasingly threatened.
In the face of these challenges many of us — American Jews deeply committed to the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — are worried. But we are not silent or passive. Rather, we have voiced our concerns and offered our support to those in Israel who are determined to preserve its character as a pluralistic, tolerant society.
That is why we are supporters of the New Israel Fund (NIF). Since its founding in 1979, NIF has seeded and nurtured the progressive civil society organizations in Israel that have promoted democracy and equality for all Israelis — organizations like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Israel’s equivalent to the ACLU), Adalah (a center for Arab rights in Israel), the Coalition for Affordable Housing, and the Israel Religious Action Center — among many dozens of others.
Choose any social issue facing Israel — women’s rights, the environment, the rights of minorities, religious freedom — then look closely at the non-profit organizations on the ground working to make Israel more equal, more just and more democratic. In virtually every case, those organizations were seeded and nurtured by the New Israel Fund. They are working, day in and day out, to make Israel the kind of society all of us believe in.
Some of us have had the opportunity to meet the courageous and tireless Israelis who see the injustices in their own society and are determined to correct them. They are inspiring. Their dedication to their ideals — despite bureaucratic obstacles and social pressure — give us hope that Israel can yet live up to its promise. Their determination gives new meaning to Herzl’s timeless call, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
That’s why we’re proud to be supporters. And it is why we have chosen to join our newly established Twin Cities Regional Council. Because the New Israel Fund supports the values that we as Jews and Americans believe in. Because we know that Israel needs us as partners to defend itself against the forces of extremism and intolerance, both within and without. Most of all, we are supporters because we believe in the promise of the State of Israel, in the vision of the State articulated so beautifully in the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence:
The State of Israel… will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture…
We are standing up as leaders now because we love Israel, love it enough to see its shortcomings and work to overcome them, love it enough to partner with those Israelis determined to make their society even more just and democratic.
For all these reasons, we hope you will join us in supporting the work of the New Israel Fund.
Louis Newman and Cindy Reich are members of the Twin Cities regional council of the New Israel Fund (nif.org), which is committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis.
(American Jewish World, 4.10.15)