NIF POST-ELECTION ANALYSIS
On June 3, four days after the elections, NIF Director in Israel Avinoam Armoni addressed some 70 NIF supporters and staff in North America and England via a conference call from Jerusalem. His analysis of the election results, and their potential impact on the New Israel Fund and its work, focused on the following:
• In a democratic election by some 80% of Israel's Jewish voters and more than 70% of Arab voters, Binyamin Netanyahu won Israel's race for Prime Minister. However, any predictions regarding his government and its impact on the work of the NIF must be tentative until he assembles his government coalition and outlines his specific plans for the nation.
• Netanyahu's victory was accompanied by a dramatic shrinking of the major parties' representation in the Knesset and the concomitant growth of smaller parties, notable among them the new immigrants and those identifying themselves as Torah-observant ("Orthodox"). It appears that the latter will comprise some 40% of the government coalition, giving them unprecedented influence on life in Israel.
• In a statesman-like victory speech, Netanyahu proclaimed his commitments to peace, democratic values, and to serving all Israelis. But his prospective coalition partners -- ranging from Likudniks such as David Levy and Ariel Sharon to Shas, Agudat Yisrael, and possibly Moledet -- have clearly articulated contradictory positions. The future of the peace process is uncertain: Netanyahu's prospective partners have indicated their opposition to the Israeli army's redeployment from Hebron and their intention to strengthen and expand West Bank settlements; the Moledet party calls for transfer of the Arab population. Whether or not the new Prime Minister will be able to take large risks and overcome the demands of his coalition partners will ultimately determine his success in implementing his proclaimed commitments.
• Many of the primary issues and organizations supported by the New Israel Fund stand in danger of being removed from the national agenda or defeated by the new government, as follows:
1. Strengthening democratic values and institutions. Prospective coalition partners have declared they will "turn the Knesset into a Bet Knesset (synagogue), "curb" the Supreme Court, "privatize Kol Yisrael" (state-run radio and TV stations) and "get back at the radio" .
2. Achieving civil rights and religious pluralism. Prospective coalition partners from the ultra-religious camp demand a return to the pre-1992 status quo, which would not only prevent progress in these fields but also negate important achievements of the past few years, such as: recognition in Israel of religious conversions performed abroad and a court decision applying that principle within Israeal; representation of women and the non- Orthodox (Reform, Conservative, etc.) on local religious councils; option of non-religious funerals. Religious parties have also said they will "control" the Supreme Court, prevent human and civil rights legislation, close roads and businesses on Shabbat, and put all archaeological digs under the control of rabbis.
3. Equality for women and Arabs. A number of prospective coalition partners oppose, among other things: women's participation on religious councils; legal rights for gay/lesbian individuals and couples; full equality for Israeli Arabs.
To counter these threats to Israeli democracy, the New Israel Fund will need to expand its empowerment and capacity-building efforts to ensure that the grassroots organizations it supports will be successful:
1. Expanding their work for coexistence, in order to maintain the trust of the Palestinians;
2. Helping to close the ever-widening social gaps in our society;
3. Facilitating the growth of the public-interest sector;
4. Advocating religious pluralism and tolerance;
5. Defending civil rights and constitutional values;
6. Preserving the independence of the Supreme Court;
7. Educating all citizens in the values of Western democracy;
8. Promoting tolerance among all communities while maintaining open channels of discussion;
9. Promoting equality for Israel's Arab community, whether in the social or economic spheres (as national budgets are re- allocated to other groups).
10. Joining other grass-roots organizations as they build broad coalitions to work for civil rights, coexistence and dialogue.
As we face new work and challenges, the New Israel Fund's supporters abroad will also play a larger role as our partners in the quest for social change and preserving the Western, democratic nature of Israeli society.