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Why I will continue to “Be Transparent”

I came to Israel, because as a young Jew in America, I was raised to believe that to be Jewish meant to champion a world of parity, justice, and peace; a world different from the one our grandparents suffered in Europe in 40’s. I grew up in America on the rhetoric of Israel being a democratic and just nation, a standout from its neighbors. I wanted to be a part of that democracy.

I came to Israel because I saw pictures of Abraham Joshua Heschel walking alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and knew that to be Jewish meant to do the right thing, it meant to “pray with your feet”, even if that meant being uncomfortable or going against popular opinion.

I moved to Israel because I was sick of always being labeled the “Jewish Guy” at my job with a large NGO in America. I came to Israel to escape that label, and just “live” life as a Jew, and have that be the background, not the foreground of my life. However, after crossing an ocean to escape being labeled as the “other”, I’ve come to find a new label staring me in the face, and this time from the Israeli government
This week the Knesset will be discussing the “NGO Law” a law that was written to label and ostracize organizations taking on issues of the periphery in Israel. It is creating a literal “black-list” of organizations who receive foreign government funding (i.e. all NGOs who receive EU or UN grants- which happen to be the largest sources of funding for human rights issues in Israel). On top of that, it demands that if I enter the Knesset, I must “label” myself physically as an employee of these organizations. This is something that right wing-organizations, who rely on mostly private foreign funding, won’t have to do.

I live in Israel because the New Israel Fund and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants helped me find a place in this country that aligns my values of Tikkun Olam, along with my strong passion to keep a State of Israel that is a model of justice. Loving Israel and wanting to aid asylum-seekers are not mutually exclusive. These two organizations are leaders in their fields of progressive values and servicing periphery communities in need of help. They will also be severely negatively affected by the new legislation.

Many times when speaking with clients at the Hotline, they talk about their journey to Israel, and how they heard that it was a safe country with a strong democracy, one that might be able to help them as they escape from the genocide and dictatorial regimes of their home nations. They came with hope that for the first time in almost all of their lives, they’d experience what it meant to be in a country that allowed for freedom of thought, speech, and association. The reality they find here is quite different, and our organizations works on a daily basis to change the status-quo.

How could I ever defend the current actions of the government, when they produce legislation that is actively looking to silence, and intimidate organizations rights to expression and association?

The government needs to treat its opposition as a thought-partner in strengthening the democratic nature of the state, not as something to stomp out. This is why I committ to the day-to-day work of the Hotline, and to “pray with my feet” to encourage Israel to hold up the freedoms it promises to its people.

* Sam Kuttner is a Shatil Social Justice Fellow, spending his year working at the Hotline for Refguees and Migrants