Robert Rinder makes emotive appeal to support New Israel Fund

The TV celebrity reveals details of his new BBC documentary filmed in Israel and West Bank


LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: Robert Rinder attends the launch of Judge Rinder's new book "Rinder's Rules: Make the Law work for you!" at Daunt Books on October 5, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)

TV celebrity Robert Rinder delivered an impassioned appeal on behalf of the UK branch of the New Israel Fund as he hosted its first dinner for three years on Sunday.

Describing himself as “a proud supporter” of the charity, he helped it raise more than £500,000 as 400 guests gathered at an East London venue to honour the recipient of its annual human rights awards.

Mr Rinder, who revealed details of his forthcoming documentary for the BBC filmed in Israel and the West Bank, recalled that his first attendance at the NIF awards dinner five years ago had been “a night that changed me”.

Until then, there had been “a missing space”,  he said, but he  had found “a home amongst you all” and “a shared vision, a faith in Israel that shone the light of hope, of hatikvah, over despair and over division”.

It had woven “a tapestry of light that I have cloaked myself in and worn proudly for the past five years”.

Human rights, he said, were “meaningless unless their promise can be shared by all of humankind. And that activism for a real democratic state under the rule of law is the mission of each and every one of us.”

NIF was “ a shared home where I can share my love and also my concern for Israel,” he said. “We are all grappling with the complexity of Israel today, especially after last week’s election”.

For 40 years, NIF “has created, developed and supported hundreds of organisations that strengthen democracy and deliver a fairer society… It makes a concrete difference to people’s life”.

As he cast his eyes around the packed room, he said, “This is a community that celebrates what Israel can be and what it must reach towards.”

This year’s award winners were Nabila Espanioly, who has worked for four decades to advance the position, in particular, of Palestinian women in Israel and Ir Amim, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation which campaigns for an “equitable and stable Jerusalem as a home for two peoples”.

Raised in a large Catholic family in Nazareth, Ms Espanioly helped to dramatically improve the proportion of Palestinian children receiving nursery education, which rose from 12 per cent to now over 90 per cent.

Ms Espanioly said she was honoured "not only for my person, I'm honoured for all Palestinian women who are still struggling for their rights, for their equality, for their survival."

She urged the audience, "Don't give up on our Palestinian sisters, don't give up on democracy."

A hard-hitting film on Ir Amim featuring a young female student from East Jerusalem showed some of its work opposing the demolition of Palestinian homes and eviction of residents.

Mr Rinder recently returned from the area where he had been filming Shoah survivors and Jews from Arab lands who had found sanctuary in Israel as well as Palestinian refugees.

From his interviews he had heard “what it meant to be part of a land as far back as somebody could remember and smell the olive grove, those lemon trees of a grandfather who had planted them and to be told you are leaving - just for two days, and there she sat with her great-grandchildren far from that land, not in reaching distance any more.”

On a lighter note, he recalled his delight at the “magic” of Tel Aviv - “all the clubs, parties, fabulous food, the men!”

But amid the city’s “rich beauty”, he warned of “a complacency that’s settled in because there is so much distraction”.

Guests included former Justice Minister Lord David Wolfson, former senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies Laura Marks, who chairs the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and Masorti Judaism’s Senior Rabbi, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg.

The charity is now on course for a sixth successive year to allocate more than £2 million to causes in Israel.

David Davidi-Brown, NIF UK's chief executive, said its achievements had included more social housing for specific groups such as single mothers and Holocaust survivors, greater access to healthcare and the first radiotherapy centre in Northern Israel. He was loudly applauded when he said NIF had put an end to discriminatory measures so that same-sex couples could start a family.

"Some might say, thankfully, governments, good or bad, come and go. We are here to stay," he said.

"We are facing difficult and distressing times. Discrimination is set to increase and there may well be devastating consequences for Israel's democracy, especially by those targetted by the far-right nationalism of the incoming government.

"But I am confident that with your support we can help Israelis fight back against extremism. They are not giving up, we must be by their side."

The acclaimed Palestinian singer from Israel, Miri Awad, brought the evening to an end, leading the audience in a chorus in Arabic, Hebrew and English, "If only I were a candle in the dark".

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