New Times,
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24 November 2009

The New Israel Fund

A promising tale of pluralism and cultural tolerance

By James Macintyre

On Monday, a rather special awards dinner will take place, hosted for an important progressive organisation: the New Israel Fund. Unlike so many groups working in the troubled Middle East, NIF supports a spectrum, including Jews, Israeli Palestinians, Ethiopians, women, homosexuals and more. For 30 years, it has fought for “recognition and equal allocation of resources to non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and for civil rights in personal status issues including Jewish identity, marriage and divorce”.

According to its website:

Since 1979, NIF has fought for social justice and equality for all Israelis. We believe that Israel can live up to its founders’ vision of a state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race or gender.

Widely credited with building Israel’s progressive civil society from scratch, we have provided more than $200m to more than 800 cutting-edge organisations since our inception. What’s more, through our action arm, SHATIL, we mentor, train and lead Israeli civil society in an ongoing struggle to empower the underprivileged.

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We fight inequality, injustice and extremism because we understand that justice is the precondition for a successful democracy — and the only lasting road to peace.

The fund, which states powerfully that “the only secure Israel is a just Israel”, prioritises social justice and civil rights. Next week, it pays tribute to two figures, one a woman known for supporting religious pluralism and breaking the Orthodox monopoly on civil rights in Israel; the other an Israeli-Arab businessman and banker who now runs an organisation for Jewish-Arab economic development.

Anat Hoffman has been executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre of the Progressive Movement in Israel since April 2002. Among other ventures, she runs a group called Women of the Wall, aimed at allowing women to pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall — even in the wrong outfit. By chance, one of her colleagues was arrested at the wall last week, a report of which you can read here.

The other winner, Helmi Kittani, is being recognised under the banner of the NIF’s Achievements in Human and Civil Rights for Israeli Palestinians. The fund says it “was among the first organisations to see that civil, human and economic rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel are issues crucial to the long-term survival of the state” and has funded, mentored and trained groups that promote minority rights.

Both winners are worthy of attention, the NIF itself even more so. In a world where retreatism and suspicion all too often win the day, this particular organisation is a breath of fresh air.

 

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