It’s More Important Than Ever to Support Israeli NGOs

Since the election of Donald Trump I have encountered long-time American donors to Israel who, alarmed by his discriminatory rhetoric and policy proposals, are redirecting some of their philanthropy to U.S. organizations that promote inclusion, diversity and equality. Executives and development officers of Israeli NGOs I talk to hear similar rumblings. We are concerned about reductions in contributions.

It is certainly understandable that progressive US citizens are unhappy at the prospect of an administration that may be unfriendly to minorities and the disadvantaged, unsupportive of civil rights, and unsympathetic to a range of traditional American, and even constitutional, values. US domestic causes thus offer a counterbalance to expected policy changes the new administration seems about to pursue.

While I support this inclination, I am also troubled by its implications for worthy causes in Israel, particularly those working toward a more just and fair society, aiming to maintain Israel’s democratic values, and fighting for economic justice and peace. Progressive Israelis have long faced challenges similar to those that a Trump administration portends.

In fact, Israel’s shift towards a right-wing atmosphere began decades ago, and except for short periods of remission has intensified. The most alarming phenomena are taking place in recent years, as members of the governing coalition advance increasingly discriminatory practices, sometime to the point of clear incitement against minorities. Therefore, those who care about democratic and progressive values and also about Israel should realize that the situation in Israel calls for more attention, not less.

While these are trying times in the US, the already fragile situation in Israel promises to be more treacherous than before. The incoming Trump administration is poised to be more tolerant — even explicitly or implicitly supportive — of Israel’s governing coalition’s discriminatory rhetoric and practices, its new legislative proposals adversely affecting minorities, its embracing of settler demands and its erosion of democratic values.

In my opinion, an important criterion in giving is to support worthy causes that do not get a lot of attention and dollars from mainstream society, whether in Israel, the US or elsewhere. Some of the best charities in Israel attract big donations, and a lot of them deserve it. But in these times it is more important to make sure that worthy causes that are less popular, sometime even controversial, in Israeli society get proper attention. That is why it is important to direct funds to those charities that promote basic values that are challenged by the alarming trends in Israeli society, especially since that is where the need is great but the dollars and donors relatively scarce.

Naturally, Israeli NGOs are concerned that existing sources of funding may be lost or reduced. These organizations play an immensely critical role in Israel’s civic society. They work day and night to preserve the purpose of the Zionist vision of creating a democratic, secure, and just home for the Jewish people. They operate in an increasingly hostile atmosphere and deliver important results in many fields of advocacy, policy and public opinion.

As co-chair of the international board of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, an Israeli NGO that works toward an inclusive, equal and shared society between Jews and Arabs within Israel, I am convinced that the need for this compelling mission and the work of our peer organizations in Israel is heightened, not diminished, by the rise of Trump.

Moreover, there is a lot to be gained from increasing cooperation among like-minded NGOs on both sides of the ocean. Experience that has been accumulated in Israel in addressing xenophobic trends, discrimination and incitement, can benefit US organizations that need to address similar trends in the US. On a positive note, it is worth mentioning that while we are recovering from the surprising, not to say shocking, results of the US elections, our Israeli friends were the ones who provided a sense of optimism and gave us some hope that there is a lot that can be done. Let’s make sure that this important cooperation continues to both sides’ enhancement.

Trump has risen to the White House under the banner of “America first.” Let’s not reinforce this collective narcissism by turning away from the needs of others, particularly of Israel, where already weakening democratic values may be further undermined by the new US administration. I urge American donors to Israel who wish to combat Trumpism in America do so with new charitable dollars rather than at the expense of contributions to Israel organizations who rely on American friends.

This story "It’s More Important Than Ever to Support Israeli NGOs" was written by Howard Sohn.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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