Three are honoured by New Israel Fund

By Simon Rocker, December 4, 2008

Three Israelis who strive to make their country live up to its founding ideals were honoured for their achievements on Tuesday.

Around 280 guests acclaimed the recipients of this year’s New Israel Fund’s Human Rights Awards at a central London dinner sponsored by the Pears Foundation.

Rabbi Shay Piron, Aida Touma-Sliman and Professor Alice Shalvi were recognised for their work respectively in the fields of religion, race and women’s equality — in light of the promise of Israel’s Declaration of Independence to “ensure the complete equality of social and political rights of all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

The event’s host, journalist and author Jonathan Freedland, said that the NIF realised that “it is diaspora Jews’ responsibility to engage and grapple with the reality of Israel, warts and all. To really see Israel — yes, its outstanding and wonderful strengths, the beauty, the ingenuity of its people, the remarkable diversity… but also to be honest and clear-eyed and able to see its flaws”.

NIF, he said, “doesn’t seek to deny the truth, to prettify the truth, to airbrush it out of the way… Instead it looks at Israel head-on and seeks to change Israel for the better.”

UK chairman Mark Goldberg is stepping down after four years, having seen its annual income double over the period to more than £1 million a year.

His successor is Nicholas Saphir, a former chairman of the British Israel Chamber of Commerce.

The winners were:
Rabbi Shay Piron: one of the founders of Tzohar, a group of Orthodox rabbis who work to build bridges between religious and secular Jews, he emphasises Judaism’s commitment to social justice and fighting for “the widow, the orphan and the stranger”. He has also sought to integrate students with mental and physical disabilities into his schools.

Aima Touma-Sliman: introducing herself as “a feminist, a Palestinian, a citizen of Israel and a human being”, she was instrumental in founding the first shelter for Palestinian women in Israel and campaigns against child marriage and polygamy. She was a joint author of the “Future for Palestinian Arabs in Israel”, the document setting out her community’s aspirations for equality.

Professor Alice Shalvi: an immigrant from England in 1949, she is one of Israel’s best-known feminists, the founding chair of the Israel Women’s Network which pressed for equal treatment in employment and other areas, the former principal of an Orthodox girls’ high school and a fierce critic of Israeli rabbinical courts’ handling of divorce.

Last updated: 12:49pm, December 4 2008