So­cial jus­tice fight­ers find a grow­ing au­di­ence

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY NEWS - BY SI­MON ROCKER

THE NEW Is­rael Fund’s UK sup­port group en­joyed its best turnout and high­est ap­peal re­turn as its 11th hu­man rights award din­ner cel­e­brated the achieve­ments of groups fight­ing for equal­ity, so­cial jus­tice and Jewish-Arab co-ex­is­tence.

Its at­ten­dance of 540, in­clud­ing 130 younger par­tic­i­pants from its NewGen group, was the first time it had at­tracted more than 500 guests to the event. The £575,000 they pledged at the Brew­ery in East Lon­don on Sun­day was 15 per cent up on last year’s pre­vi­ous record of £500,000.

Four Is­raeli groups who re­ceive NIF grants were hon­oured.

Sikkuy — the As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Civic Equal­ity — is a joint Jewish-Arab en­ter­prise striv­ing to re­duce the in­equal­i­ties in govern­ment al­lo­ca­tions to Arab town­ships and to build a “shared so­ci­ety”.

Achoti (For Women in Is­rael), As­saf, which aids refugees, and the Hot­line for Refugees and Mi­grants were jointly recog­nised for their role in help­ing to pre­vent the de­por­ta­tion of more than 38,500 African asy­lum-seek­ers by the Is­raeli govern­ment ear­lier this year.

Clive Shel­don, NIF UK chair­man, re­called that the or­gan­i­sa­tion in Is­rael had come un­der at­tack from some politi­cians in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu for its stand on asy­lum-seek­ers, or op­po­si­tion to the Jewish Na­tion-State Law this year — which down­graded Ara­bic from an “of­fi­cial lan­guage”.

NIF-backed groups had “not been cowed by these at­tacks but re­sponded with courage, con­tin­u­ing to fight for democ­racy and pro­gres­sive val­ues”.

Its courage had brought in­creased sup­port in­clud­ing do­na­tions from politi­cians such as for­mer Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Barak and for­mer Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Dan Meri­dor.

“As an or­gan­i­sa­tion, we are not afraid to speak out when we see Is­rael go­ing in a dan­ger­ous di­rec­tion and it would be wrong not to so,” he said.

But its crit­i­cism came “from a place of love and con­cern that Is­rael must be a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, true to the dream of its founders as re­flected in the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence”.

Raw­nak Na­tour, Sikkuy’s co-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, de­scribed the Na­tion-State Law as “a slap in the face for peo­ple like me” as a Pales­tinian cit­i­zen of Is­rael. But it would not de­ter the or­gan­i­sa­tion from its work.

Sikkuy was help­ing to nar­row the gap be­tween Jewish and Arab com­mu­ni­ties in Is­rael in ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture and em­ploy­ment.

Shula Keshet, founder of Achoti, de­scribed how its cam­paign had mo­bilised sup­port for African asy­lum-seek­ers from among the mostly Mizrachi Jewish res­i­dents in dis­ad­van­taged neigh­bour­hoods of south Tel Aviv.

Only a few days ago, she and other grass­roots ac­tivists won seats on the coun­cil in lo­cal elec­tions.

Din­ner chair Sarah Peters re­called vis­it­ing the build­ing in Tel Aviv where Is­rael’s Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was signed for a Ra­dio 4 doc­u­men­tary on its 70th an­niver­sary.

“You’d have to be made of stone not to shed a tear and feel an over­whelm­ing sense of pride,” she said. “I know I did. The peo­ple there did not just cre­ate a Jewish state. They stood to­gether and vowed that the new coun­try would ‘en­sure com­plete equal­ity of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal rights for all its in­hab­i­tants, re­gard­less of reli­gion, race or sex’.”

There were loud cheers as she an­nounced that NIF was grow­ing, “es­pe­cially among the younger gen­er­a­tion”.

Ap­plause also greeted the an­nounce­ment that guests in­cluded Labour MP Dame Mar­garet Hodge, who has been out­spo­ken in con­fronting Jeremy Corbyn over an­tisemitism in the party.

We are not afraid to speak out [against Is­rael]’

PHOTO: BLAKE EZRA

Some of the younger din­ner guests

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