Social justice fighters find a growing audience
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]’
Some of the younger dinner guests