Grantee Profile: New Israel Fund

Name of Organization

New Israel Fund

What’s your origin story?

The New Israel Fund was founded in 1979 by a group of American Jews who felt a strong connection to Israel, but saw a gap for progressive civil society. Since then, it has blossomed into a partnership of Israelis, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Europeans committed to securing equality, justice, and democracy for all. NIF has always seen its role as actualizing the vision of Israel’s Founders, that of a Jewish and democratic state that, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

Tell us about your work. What do you do?

We at the New Israel Fund support organizations and activists who are working towards — and demanding — a better future for all Israelis and people living under Israel’s control. Since our founding, we’ve granted over $300 million to over 900 different organizations. Our grantees represent a broad cross-section of Israeli society, ranging from our flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which works to secure civil liberties, especially for the most vulnerable (think the ACLU of Israel), to the ultra-Orthodox activists working to make their communities more inclusive, to Omdim Beyachad, a joint Jewish-Arab movement for social and economic justice on all fronts.

Through our action arm Shatil, we also provide trainings and fora to convene for civil society leaders and organizations. Shatil enables organizations and activists to do things they wouldn’t be able to do on their own, like lobby government ministries, build new civil society infrastructure, and connect with counterparts in other fields.

What is your approach to the work?

It’s not enough for us to merely provide funds for our grantees. Our grantee organizations are able to be so much more effective when we provide support, guidance, and training to use our funds to achieve their goals. Investing in our partners on the ground has allowed us to grow a robust civil society ecosystem that did not exist when NIF was founded.

We like to say that this work is a relay race — different theories of change and tactics are necessary for achieving the progress Israel needs. We firmly believe in both funding long-term work, and providing rapid-response funding in moments of crisis or opportunity. For example, it’s vital to enable grantees to carry on decades-long legal cases to defend the rights of the most vulnerable, while providing support on short-notice for protests when an unfavorable decision is handed down.

What’s most rewarding about the work that you do?

The seemingly small wins that have real impacts on people’s lives. Like when NIF grantee The Public Housing Forum supported public housing residents in Tel Aviv in their successful campaign to prevent their fees from increasing tenfold, or when NIF grantees ACRI and ASSAF — Aid Organization for Asylum Seekers and Refugees successfully petitioned to expand access to kindergarten for the children of asylum seekers in Petah Tikvah.

What’s keeping you up at night?

Israel is on a steep descent towards autocracy and ethnonationalism, and it’s not a given that our values of equality, justice, and democracy will ultimately prevail. The outlook is not rosy, but we have no time for despair. The New Israel Fund was built for times like these. We are organizing, rallying our friends and allies around the world, and re-committing both to the long-term work we’ve always done to defend democracy and protect human rights even as we bolster our rapid response fund to support those pushing back against the government’s anti-democratic actions.

What – if anything – is giving you joy or hope?

The activists and leaders who are continuing to work day in, day out, even as the conditions become more hostile. It’s impossible to give up hope when Israelis are continuing to show up by the tens of thousands at protests to protect human rights and defend democracy, when they refuse to accept ethnonationalism and endless occupation. In 2021, about 20% of NIF donors internationally were from Israel. As of this writing, it’s too early to know the percentage for 2022, but it is inspiring that Israelis see the need to support NIF’s work even as they are its beneficiaries.

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