By Daniel Sokatch, International CEO of the New Israel Fund
Over the last few weeks, I’ve watched news and rumours from the incoming coalition negotiations with both alarm and what I suppose you could call a sense of grim resolution. I am deeply disturbed, but not terribly surprised. After all, what else would we expect from what will almost certainly prove to be the most ferociously extreme, hardline government in Israeli history? While the coalition agreement has not yet been finalized, it’s clear that it will empower the most extreme factions in Israeli politics, weaken Israel’s democratic institutions, and strengthen the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over religious life.
Itamar Ben-Gvir is slated to serve as Israel’s new National Security Minister, a post that is being expanded to oversee Israel’s Border Police to give him greater control in the West Bank. His tenure is sure to ratchet up already-high tensions in the West Bank, increase threats against Palestinians living in the occupied territories, pave the way for increased activity by extremists on all sides, and result in even less accountability for Israeli actions there (not that there was much accountability to begin with). This week, he suggested transferring Border Police to the Negev to exert control over the Bedouins who live there — Israeli citizens, and already some of the most marginalized people in Israel.
Avi Maoz, one of the most virulently homophobic politicians in Israel, is set to take on a role in the Prime Minister’s office that will oversee “Jewish identity”. His arch-conservative positions threaten the LGBTQ+ community and people who don’t fit neatly into his (frankly terrifying) worldview.
Once the coalition takes power, one of the first bills it plans to pass is the “override clause”, which would allow the Knesset to overrule Israel’s Supreme Court — including its “Basic Laws”, which serve as the closest thing Israel has to a Constitution– with a simple majority. This would effectively end judicial review in Israel. And it is a particularly dangerous prospect at a time when the Supreme Court is often the only check on the most extreme policies, especially towards Palestinians.
The outlook is not rosy, but we have no time for despair. The New Israel Fund was built for times like these. In anticipation of these challenges, we’re organizing, rallying our friends and allies around the world, and re-committing both to the long-term work we’ve always done to defend democracy and protect human rights even as we bolster our “MAGEN” emergency grants pool.
I want to go into greater detail about this grant pool, because I think it is one of the most important tools in NIF’s toolbox, especially during times like these. MAGEN is a Hebrew acronym that stands for Mahir, Gamish, Nisioni (Rapid, Flexible, Experimental). This grant pool allows us to respond quickly to challenges and crises as they arise; it enables NIF-supported organizations and activists to adjust their strategies as the situation changes and evolves, and to innovate in their changemaking.
We’ve already made our first round of MAGEN grants since the election, and the range illustrates the importance of having this flexibility in our grantmaking. We allocated a grant to our flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to raise public awareness about the threat the new ruling coalition poses to Israeli democracy. Meanwhile, we provided funding to Rabbis for Human Rights to set up a website to track reports of settler violence during the olive harvest in real time and to the Association of Ethiopian Jews (AEJ) to raise awareness about police brutality during the trial of the officer who shot Solomon Tekoa. These are a few of the 10 MAGEN grants that we allocated in the last few months.
Civil society organizations can — and do — plan for the work they will need to do to protect the fundamental rights for all living under Israel’s control. That’s where the vast majority of our grantmaking goes: to the long-term work to build a movement that fights for equality, justice, and democracy for all.
But we and our partners can’t anticipate everything. When human rights defenders are arrested and sued, we need to be able to support their legal teams; when anti-democratic legislation is proposed, we need to enable protest organizers to take to the streets; when an opportunity for change presents itself, we need to have the flexibility to empower changemakers.
Israelis are stepping up to support this vital work. Just this week, our colleagues in Israel launched a massively successful crowdfunding campaign, raising over 2 million NIS ($790,000) from thousands of Israeli donors in just three days to support our vital work to defend democracy and protect human rights.
We will keep on fighting for the rights of all people, especially the most marginalized, living in Israel and under its control. Israelis have stepped up to support the activists and organizations working to build a future where everyone, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or where they were born, enjoys the same rights and freedoms. Will you join hands with the Israelis demanding a better future by giving today?