From our Chief Executive April 2020

Israel’s Civil Society is Rising to the Challenge – And So Must We

In the UK, in Israel and across the world, we are all grappling with the global crisis caused by coronavirus. There is a struggle to stem the virus’s spread, care for the sick, and mitigate the unprecedented economic damage of this pandemic.

This past week, NIF’s Senior Director in New York, Rabbi Ayelet Cohen, shared a prayer for the healers, which I think movingly captures how humbled we all feel right now in the face of these frontline workers heroism. It includes these lines:

Tend to those they have sworn to help…
Ease their fear. Sustain them.
Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;
Keep them in health, that they may bring healing.

Those in Israel’s civil society who have sworn to help are those that the New Israel Fund is working to sustain.

I know that you are committed to sustaining them, too.

Israeli civil society has acted swiftly to respond to this pandemic. Everything is changing to meet the needs of the most marginalised people in Israeli society, ensure equal access to government services, and build resilience for the future.

That is why as we enter Pesach we are committed to finding ways to sustain this critical work as Israel’s civil society responds in this time of crisis.

This virus has revealed the cracks and injustices in our societies. We know the most vulnerable members of our society are the most at risk — the elderly, the incarcerated, the undocumented, and status-less people. Their ability to receive care and timely public health information is not merely a question of justice, it’s essential to our ability to contain this pandemic.

Equality cannot be an afterthought in our public health response.

That’s why 23 civil society organisations, including the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, the Negev Coexistence ForumAdalah — Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and NIF’s flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, demanded that the government stop demolishing homes and razing cultivated fields in the Negev and the West Bank — and the government has now committed to not demolishing any residential structures.

Israel’s progressive civil society is essential in advocating for a just and equitable government response to provide a social safety net. Israel’s government has rolled out an emergency economic plan designed to stem the economic devastation of the pandemic. NIF grantees, like the Berl Katznelson Foundation and the Adva Center, are pushing to ensure that any plan provides relief equitably for those bearing the brunt of the economic impacts. We are also supporting groups addressing the tragic spike in domestic violence.

As Israel’s civil society sector faces the stark economic realities resulting from this global crisis, NIF is working to understand and meet the needs of our partners and grantee organisations. NIF and Shatil, our action arm, are working with organisations to help them plan and adapt to the crisis. Finally, NIF’s emergency grants programme is allowing organizations to respond urgently to the crisis in real time with the flexibility they require.

NIF is committing to supporting the Israelis working day and night to alleviate the worst effects of this crisis.

These past few weeks, we have also watched Israel’s interim government use COVID-19 pandemic as cover to strike at the heart of Israel’s democracy. Prime Minister Netanyahu has used his emergency powers to close down the courts. While the high point of Israel’s constitutional crisis may have passed, every day, the defenders of Israel’s democracy are fighting to protect citizens’ basic rights and to hold Israel’s authorities accountable to democratic safeguards. Amid this crisis, the threats to democracy remain acute.

As long as this crisis lasts, we have to ensure that our grantees have the support they need to fight for equal access to healthcare and resources for all. For NIF, responding to this emergency means making sure that those defending civil liberties and Israel’s fragile democracy can continue their heroic work. It means sustaining the advocates in Israel who are building the plans and policy proposals can ensure that any government programme to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic includes those who are the most vulnerable.

We will rise to this challenge by doing our critical work of helping civil society organisations adapt in these times. This is the essential work we are called on to do.

In times like these, we will need you there by our side.

Wishing you and your family well this Pesach,

Adam Ognall,

Chief Executive, The New Israel Fund