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Networking Central

The New Israel Fund and the Philadelphia Regional Council

Protecting Israel's democracy.

For many years, the New Israel Fund (NIF) has attracted attention and support from several hundred Philadelphians who have been aware of the organization's unique mission and accomplishments. Yet for most in the Philadelphia Jewish community, the New Israel Fund remains virtually unknown. 

On March 16, several long-time donors came together to serve on a newly created NIF Philadelphia Regional Council, intent on raising NIF's profile and support in the Philadelphia Jewish community. According to Dan Segal, one of the founders of the Regional Council and a member of NIF's International Council, "Many Philadelphia Jewish community members share the New Israel Fund's vision of furthering democracy, pluralism and social justice in Israel. Establishing a Regional Council in Philadelphia will better enable them to have a vehicle through which to implement that vision." 

The other founding members of the Philadelphia Regional Councils are Richard Bazelon, Mark Berger, Jane Eisner, Arthur "Nick" Goldman, Jacob Kriger, Linda Kriger, Adena Potok, David Richman, Dveera Segal, Rebecca Starr, David Weinstein and Jerry Rubenstein.

At a time when there is some controversy over the influence of the Israel lobby, it makes sense to remind both friends and adversaries of Israel that Zionism has never been monolithic. While there have always been progressive forces in the Zionist world and then within Israel's political spectrum, for 27 years, the New Israel Fund has been the primary advocate and funder of progressive causes in Israel --- an organization that took on cutting-edge issues long before they reached the agendas of more mainstream American Jewish organizations. 

To understand NIF, it helps to know history. In 1979, when the New Israel Fund was launched, Israel was a democracy lacking the active involvement of its citizenry. This was a society that had traditionally turned to government and political parties to manage even the smallest details of public life. Unlike in the United States, there was no public sector demanding change and leading public movements for reform. 

And the need for a social justice movement was there. Israelis themselves recognized the inequities in Israeli society --- Jewish immigrants from Arab countries who had been settled in dilapidated, downwardly mobile development towns, Arab citizens of Israel denied a decent education and living in villages where sewage gushed through the streets; or women who systematically received dramatically less pay for the same jobs as their male colleagues. And, in a country where birth, death and every life cycle event in between was controlled by the Orthodox rabbinate, someone needed to fund and unite the liberal and secular Israelis fighting for a pluralistic and tolerant future. 

Looking at Israeli society as a whole, NIF saw that the deep-seated social and economic problems, prejudices and injustices that had been ignored in Israel's heroic effort to ensure its survival could very well threaten its survival. NIF's founders saw their cause as fulfilling the democratic vision of Israel's Declaration of Independence: "a state based on the principles of liberty, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; a state which would uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race or sex."

A recent article in Ha'aretz stated, "There is hardly any significant, socially-oriented organization in Israel today that does not owe its existence to the New Israel Fund." Unlike other organizations, NIF funds activists and advocacy, on the premise that assisting people fighting for their own rights is the best guarantee of a vibrant, equitable society. Over the last 27 years, NIF has funded more than 750 NGOs with approximately $200 million, focused on several key areas: 

  • Civil and Human Rights: Flagship NIF grantees such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel have won court battles on issues ranging from the prohibition of torture in civilian interrogations to laying the groundwork for Israels version of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) Other grantees work on issues ranging from evenhanded urban planning and land sales to the rights of women chained to spouses who will not grant them a divorce. 
  • Social and Economic Justice: As a nation with many disadvantaged minority groups, from Ethiopians to Mizrachim to citizen Arabs, Israel has a special responsibility to its underprivileged. NIF introduced activism to single mothers, senior citizens, minority and immigrant communities, and funds activities from community organizing to micro-enterprise. In the recent Israeli election, our grantees successfully mobilized to organize communities, advocate for equitable government policies and empower disadvantaged Israelis to ensure that social justice issues resonated in the election results. 
  • Religious Pluralism and Tolerance: NIF has long been a principal supporter of a pluralistic and tolerant Israeli culture that includes diverse approaches to Judaism and Jewish identity. NIF grantees are in the forefront of the struggle for civil marriage and other life-cycle events, recognition of non-Orthodox conversions and the equal and unbiased allocation of government resources. 
  • Nonprofit Management: Through Shatil, NIF's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations, the New Israel Fund provides grantees and other social change organizations hands-on assistance and training in the basics of nonprofit management. Widely regarded as one of the world's most successful capacity-building organizations, Shatil regularly originates, discovers and disseminates best practices to Israel's growing NGO sector. 

The New Israel Fund also partners with other philanthropists in joint initiatives, including a multiyear program funded by the Ford Foundation to promote peace and social justice in Israel. Another joint program, the Green Environment Fund, is the first funding collaboration in Israel to protect and preserve the environment. NIF is also partnering with another U.S. foundation and with the Joint Distribution Committee to advance infrastructure development for the Bedouin in the Negev. 

NIF is pleased to be welcomed into the Philadelphia region, and looks forward to participating in the vibrant dialogue of the Jewish community. 

Upcoming Event

Israel's recent election results contain the seed of important new directions in social policy. The NIF Philadelphia Regional Council invites the community to a dessert reception and discussion about what this year means for Israel. This reception is being held Wednesday, June 14, at 7:30 pm in Merion Station, Pennsylvania. Please respond to Matt Jacobs at the New Israel Fund office at 1-888-988-3863 or matt@nif.org  

Past Networking Central Groups of the Month

In this section we highlight a new local group each month in order to encourage networking.