By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

NEWS-NIF Libby Lenkinski for web

Libby Lenkinski is NIF’s vice president for strategy.

The re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his resulting coalition present opportunities as well as challenges for American Jews who have a progressive vision for Israel.

That’s the view of Libby Lenkinski, the New Israel Fund vice president of strategy, who is coming to Atlanta to speak in a free program June 8.

The return of ultra-Orthodox parties to the government threatens to reverse gains made in spreading religious pluralism and reducing the power of the Orthodox chief rabbinate, and there are no signs of progress toward a two-state peace solution with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s vow before the election not to reach a two-state solution and his warning on Election Day that Israeli Arabs were voting in droves alarm those who support equal rights in Israel, Lenkinski said.

She noted that those Arabs make up 20 percent of the nation Netanyahu leads, so his statement “was of deep concern to supporters of NIF and the organizations we work with on the ground. … Those are the kinds of things that are disappointing.”

But Lenkinski said the governing coalition offers honesty and clarity and the possibility of partnership on some social and economic issues with groups that might oppose NIF on other policies. She said the ultra-Orthodox parties are good on NIF’s social and economic issues, and Moshe Kahlon’s centrist Kulanu party ran on the issue of affordable housing.

She emphasized that while the governing coalition turned to the right after the election, Israeli voters did not. That’s part of the reason Netanyahu’s coalition has the slimmest of majorities with 61 of 120 Knesset seats.

NIF also is working outside the affluent center of Israel to get people off their couches to engage on core issues.

“There are research institutions that are drafting policies on what a liberal policy looks like on issues of equality, on housing, on national security,” Lenkinski said. “That’s just one of the sort of building blocks of that piece of connecting grass roots to more power and influence and traction by sort of creating infrastructure.”

Lenkinski said it’s important for people to be open to hearing different points of view about Israel and not to classify all criticism of policies or actions as delegitimization of Israel’s existence.

“I think that will only last so long” before people who believe in the values of the thriving liberal democracy envisioned by Israel’s founders find common ground and turn against those who don’t even believe in a two-state solution, she said.

NIF opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which does seek to delegitimize Israel, and Lenkinski said her organization doesn’t support going to any international justice organization to address issues within Israel.

She also said it’s important to remember that NIF’s mission is to improve Israel and Israeli society and doesn’t include work with Palestinian organizations.

“We’re very clear about the full spectrum of what we support,” she said. “If you don’t believe in basic human rights, you’re probably not going to be a supporter of the New Israel Fund.”

Lenkinski will engage in a conversation June 8 about the postelection path for progressive American Jews with Atlantans Steve Berman and Shai Robkin.

Robkin, who holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship and is the chairman of NIF’s Atlanta Regional Council, said the organization hopes to expand its local presence to provide an outlet for progressive, pro-Israel Jews to express their feelings and support like-minded Israelis.

“The need to support those in Israel who advocate for democratic values, pluralism and human rights is perhaps greater than ever before,” Robkin said by email.

At a time when many young Jews are feeling disconnected from Israel and others are turning to anti-Israel efforts such as the BDS movement, he said NIF can serve as a positive outlet for frustrated American Jews who want to see Israel live up to its ideals.

“You can either curse the darkness or light a match. I hope you would opt for the latter,” Robkin said.

 

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What: New Israel Fund discussion on progressive strategies in Israel

Where: Congregation Shearith Israel, 1180 University Drive, Atlanta

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 8

Cost: Free; atlanta@nif.org or 212-613-4426