NIF's Naomi Chazan Speaks: "We Can't be Silent"

Published: May 11th 2010
in News » Local

NIF President Naomi Chazan with Together in Hope (a Jewish/Arab women's dialogue group)
NIF president Naomi Chazan
JDL Protest outside Naomi Chazan speech

On Sunday, May 9, Toronto Reconstructionist synagogue Darchei Noam hosted the president of the New Israel Fund, Naomi Chazan, as part of a lecture series dealing with Israel, its domestic challenges and its relations with its neighbours and with the Diaspora.


Born In Jerusalem in 1946, Chazan, who described herself as the “mother of civil society in Israel,” ironically addressed the packed audience in flawless English on Mother’s Day; a fact that she lamented by mentioning with a tinge of sadness that in Israel Mother’s Day has been replaced with Family Day.


Chazan, a professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she served as the chair of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, has a lengthy CV, including degrees from Columbia University and time spent at Harvard and MIT. She was also a Member of the Knesset for the Meretz party from 1992 to 2003, serving as deputy speaker and sitting on multiple committees.


Never one to shy away from debate or her mission to “fix” social woes, she spoke at length on the subject of the “Achievements and Challenges of Israel’s Democracy.”


Chazan began by saying that while she was initially concerned about how to get the Canadian community involved in the conversation that is taking place now inside Israel, a protest by the Jewish Defence League (JDL) outside the building made her immediately feel at home because “obviously people care. People’s concerns burn them up inside.”


Raised in Jerusalem, she recalled how her parents came to Palestine in late ‘30s from London – “a place from where very few Jews actually came voluntarily” ­– because they were “true Zionists in the full sense of the term.”


“They believed strongly that political self-determination was the root to individual self-determination and freedom and justice. In other words, they linked in their mind the creation of the state of Israel with the creation of a just society in Israel.”


At home, Chazan was brought up on one document: the Israeli Declaration of Independence. She noted how it talks not only about creation of Israel, but about essential values that the state should entrench; equality for all citizens, regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion; extending a hand of peace to your neighbours; the creation of social justice.


“(My parents) taught me that if there were problems there was one obligation I had and that is to fix them. I’ve been fixing all my life.”


The dilemma Chazan believes Israel currently faces? Sixty-two years after Israel’s creation, one of its most important achievements is its “capacity to maintain its boisterous democracy.” She quoted a remarkable figure – of the over 150 countries created after WWII, Israel and India are only two that have survived as democracies. A “tremendous achievement,” she remarked.


However: “Democracies are like gardens. If you don’t water them, they whither. They begin to flounder. They can disappear. And today, more than any time in my memory, there are serious challenges to Israel’s democracy. It’s beyond boisterous and uncivilized. It may be going further.”


Related articles: (NIF, New Israel Fund, Naomi Chazan, Im Tirtzu, Goldstone, reconstructionist, darchei noam, JDL, democracy, civil society, human rights, civil rights, social justice)

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