ISRAEL is a “work in progress”, the global CEO of the New Israel Fund (NIF), Daniel Sokatch, told a Sydney audience earlier this week.
Addressing a boardroom lunch, Sokatch spoke passionately about Israeli democracy and the work of the NIF, while also responding to some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the organisation.
Using the histories of the US and Australia as examples, the American described Israel as a liberal democracy that’s wrestling with its identity.
“Our countries were imperfect experiments where the ethnocratic impulse was always up against the democratic impulse. And in the long arc of history, the democratic impulses have won out.
“With the work of the organisations the New Israel Fund supports, and the millions of Israelis who stand for an Israeli democracy, in that case too, the ethnocratic instincts and impulses that exist in Israel … will ultimately be tamed by the democratic impulses,” he said.
He expressed concern at a number of recent bills making their way through the Knesset which he said “would ultimately change the democratic face of Israel”. He cited the recent Naqba Law, which forbids the commemoration of the alleged displacement of Palestinians due to the establishment of the State of Israel.
To illustrate his point, he drew the parallel that Arabs view the day in a similar way that African Americans might view the US Independence Day or Native Americans might view Columbus Day – as something solemn rather than celebratory.
“These things are complex, and in liberal democracies that are evolving … we embrace the complexity, and Israel always embraced the complexity too … Now because of the Naqba Law, we’ve taken a huge step back.”
Sokatch also criticised a new law forbidding Israelis from boycotting goods from settlements, saying they had just as much right to do so as ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem had to boycott shops that open on Shabbat. “We fiercely oppose legislating away the right of Israelis, any Israelis, to exercise freedom of expression,” he said.
But he drew an important line.
“NIF is adamantly opposed to the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement,” he said.
“It is anathema to the New Israel Fund to single out Israel as the only bad state actor worthy of such horrific treatment.
“We think on ethical, moral and strategic grounds it’s wrong, and we won’t support organisations in Israel that are part of that movement.”
NIF global CEO Daniel Sokatch