From our Chief Executive – March 2017

I have recently returned from the annual NIF International meeting in Jerusalem where the big question we addressed was ‘how does NIF respond to a changing world?’. Our conversations were also focused around my US colleague Jen being detained as she entered Israel.

In the NIF context, developments in Israel and the political upheavals in the USA and elsewhere impact on the issues we address in Israel and also on NIF’s supporter community worldwide. Sitting in a room of distinguished and dynamic Israelis, Americans, Brits and Australians (amongst others) considering the response, was both profound and inspiring. We didn’t dare to try to come up with ‘magic answers’ to the challenges of the current but rather think through how NIF best creates positive change in Israel and builds a growing community of support for this work both in Israel and amongst Jewish communities worldwide.

Our first realisation is the need to re-iterate that our work and our commitments are long term and that significant change can take time. This newsletter highlights one example of this with the recent major success around housing following six years of work which will help hundreds of thousands of Israelis realise a better basic standard of living. The second realisation is the need to be focused: to identify and work on the issues that matter most and on which we can have an impact – this is both a question of what and how. What are the issues NIF should address and how do we best do this? These questions very much informed the decisions of the board as to which grants and projects we will be supporting in the coming year.

The third and perhaps less obvious realisation is that values matter. Shatil – NIF’s operating arm – conducted an evaluation of its work and asked its partners and those it has helped what allows Shatil to be effective. The answer was fascinating as it uncovered that Shatil – and more widely NIF’s – ‘value add’ is derived not only from the mix of capacity building, organising and policy change work that Shatil conducts but that it does this work based on a vision, a set of values and a clear agenda.

On a personal note, these conversations and my meetings with the leaders and activists of the organisations that NIF supports was invigorating. I never fail to be inspired by the dedication, intelligence and passion of those whose work on a daily basis is to tackle some of the big issues facing Israel society.

In this changing world, we also experienced the detention and questioning of my US colleague Jen Gorovitz as she entered Israel. Jen has worked tirelessly for Israel over the years, raising millions of dollars, most notably during her tenure as CEO of the San Francisco Jewish Federation. You can read more about this incident here. The incident received wide attention including coverage in the Guardian and the New York Times and Jen was quite literally a front-page story in Israel. More heartening was the support for Jen that came from ordinary Israelis. NIF received over a hundred new donations from Israelis who described their outrage and shame that a diaspora friend of Israel was treated this way. We were also gratified by the opinion pieces and editorials – from hawkish as well as liberal Israeli papers – condemning Jen’s treatment.

As Daniel Sokatch, the NIF International CEO wrote:

“We still don’t know the real reason why Jen was detained, whether it was an over-zealous passport control agent conducting a personal political witch-hunt which spun out of control for 90 minutes, or something more sinister. Either way, I am proud of the message that NIF and our supporters – as well as thousands of regular Israelis – sent to the authorities: democracies don’t shut down or keep out dissenting voices. Rather, they welcome the debate. That is the essence of democratic society, and it is something that I know the NIF community of supporters will keep fighting for, both in Israel and here at home [in Daniel’s case the USA].”

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