For the first time in a dozen years, Binyamin Netanyahu will no longer be steering the State of Israel according to his personal legal and political needs, and right-wing MKs will no longer be able to hurt the Knesset, whose stature had appallingly diminished under his tenure.
The new “government of change” reminds us that ours is a democratic and multi-party regime, that a government starts to rot when it overstays its welcome, that the role of government is to protect the citizens. Finally, we will no longer be in a position where everything is decided through the prism of whether it is good or bad for Netanyahu.
But let’s make no mistake: The struggle for Israel’s character is not over, but only just beginning. For years, Israel’s Right worked very hard to make us all forget Judaism’s long tradition of humanism and brotherly love, one of the cornerstones on which the State of Israel was founded.
A long legacy of Jewish humanism that had evolved through constant give-and-take with the Scriptures was pushed aside. Out of the numerous and diverse ancient Jewish texts, the Jewish Right that controlled the Education Ministry for nearly two decades chose to follow only those that were anti-humane and anti-feminine. It was a choice they made.
Zulat proposes a different way. The role of Zulat and of advocates of democracy and human rights is to present a vision based on partnership and on equality for all residents of the country and among them, Jews and Arabs. Based on these principles, we propose to act toward the finalization of a humane and progressive constitution that will fortify the protection of human rights.
For more than a decade, the relentless attack on the progressive camp in the country and the surge in corruption and nationalism pushed the guardians of democracy to the wall and forced them to take defensive positions that were often doomed to failure. That is the result of the former government’s measures to emasculate the Knesset.
The threat to the democratic infrastructure of our society increased even more as Netanyahu, in cooperation with the conservative side of the political map, succeeded in surrounding himself with an ecosystem made up of ultra-conservative research institutes and think tanks, which were the engine behind the Israeli right-wing ideology that took over the Knesset’s and public agenda.
Right-wing television channels, newspapers, websites, and grassroots organizations spread their vision among MKs, ministers, and government officials, dragging Israel rightward and downward to promote the settlement enterprise and annexation, to legislate the “Nationality Law,” to rewrite civics schoolbooks, to restrict demonstrations, to crush the judicial system, to eliminate the welfare state, and to advance conservative economic policies.
We got to a point where the Right initiated and legislated racist, discriminatory, and anti-democratic laws, while our entire camp merely reacted to events and made do with waging a containment war. Of all times, it was during the terrible year of the Corona crisis we have just been through that we decided to establish Zulat, whose goal is not only to present reality, but also to change it. To act from within civil society to influence the political system from the outside, to force it to recognize reality, and then to change it.
Zulat was founded by Zehava Galon, Meretz’s leader and MK for 16 years, to ensure a progressive future for Israel. The battle for the country’s identity has now entered a crucial stage. It is too important a stage to be left only to the politicians, and it calls for a strong civil society that can advance and defend liberal values. Therefore, Zulat aspires to build partnerships with pro-democracy forces to reshape the national discourse on human rights and equality. The people want rights, and we will remind them that the basis that ensures these rights exists: It is called the Declaration of Independence!
We take a broad view of human rights, and see universal, private, collective, civil, and social rights as one whole, interdependent and binding on each other, given that there can be no democracy without human rights and the rule of law.
Zulat is unique in that it combines information-gathering, analysis, research, and policy advocacy and promotion. We approached ministers and MKs and presented them with reports, position papers, and policy papers designed to build up support for the advancement of legislative initiatives. We also collaborated with other civil society organizations to advance our policies, tutored journalists on discriminated and marginalized minority groups; and heightened our direct activism on social media and mainstream media.
This effort requires a strong civil society that fights for the values it believes in. A fresh rush of energy and demand for new ideas to rekindle the struggle can now be felt within the progressive camp. Being a body that strives to reshape the Israeli agenda and bring about real change, Zulat cooperates with civil society organizations in order to wage a broad campaign for change.
There are other research institutes doing important work, but they treat the current situation in Israeli society as a given. However, there is no civil society organization working to bring about a change in policy in the area of equality and human rights, relying on deep familiarity with the way the system works.
We seek to influence the political and media establishments with the reforms, innovative legislative initiatives, and alternative policies we propose and with the biting information campaigns we plan to conduct in the future.
In order to combat these negative trends and protect Israel’s identity and its most basic values, Zulat will strive to preserve equality, freedom, and minority rights. Zulat will enable moderate forces to reshape the Israeli discourse through an independent and positive agenda, and ensure that issues that are fundamental to the existence of a democratic and pluralistic society are properly addressed.
Our goal is to restore the long-abandoned precept that Israel’s duty is to be a light unto the nations. For decades, our light was dimmed due to a relentless onslaught by the Right, which adopted the approach that force is the be-all and end-all, ignoring the fact that the protection of human rights does not contravene Judaism, which emphasizes man’s obligation to the world around him, and is an integral part of liberal democracy.
Zulat’s broad outlook proposes to the progressive forces in our country to shift from defense to offense and to dictate a different agenda; to act based on the vision of the founders of the state and bring about the finalization of a constitution through the adoption of various constitutional laws, such as a bill of human rights, a bill of social rights, Basic Law: freedom of religion and freedom from religion, and Basic Law: equality.
In the Declaration of Independence, the State of Israel undertook to “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.”
Its authors thus followed in the footsteps of Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, the spiritual father of the Israeli state, who wrote in his book The Jewish State: “Every man will be as free and undisturbed in his faith or his disbelief as he is in his nationality. And if it should occur that men of other creeds and different nationalities come to live amongst us, we should accord them honorable protection and equality before the law.”
The new government should be seen as a challenge and an opportunity. Clearly, not everything will be fixed by it. Right-wing parties bring a conservative right-wing agenda and prominent reactionary figures into this government. But we must remember that it also comprises Center-Left representatives, and that with the latter it will be possible to advance legislative reforms and initiatives in a variety of areas, such as health, transportation, Jewish-Arab coexistence, and gender-economic equality, which in the long run will set the infrastructure for a constitution.
Zulat proposes a comprehensive strategic vision for the next decade, one that puts human rights and equality at the forefront and center, one that will allow action to finalize an egalitarian and pluralistic constitution that is durable and indestructible and that will anchor the basic rights of its citizens.
To that end, we seek to win over Israeli decision-makers and influencers to act in light of the vision of the state’s founders as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence and in Herzl’s dream, which right-wing, conservative bodies are trying to undermine.
Among other things, Zulat plans on touching in the following:
Zulat’s goal of creating a legislative infrastructure is designed to bring about the positive change, broad public support, and legitimization of a human rights discourse.
Dr. Rawia Aburabia
Dr. Rawia Aburabia is a post-doctoral fellow at the Faculty of Law and the Women and Gender Studies program at Tel Aviv University. She completed her MA in international law at the American University in Washington DC, and holds a PhD from Hebrew University. Aburabia has vast experience in international law and human rights, appearing before bodies such as the UN, and serving on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and is the author of the book “Ongoing Legal Exclusion: Palestinian Bedouin Women in Polygamous Marriages in Israel.” Globes newspaper named her one of the 40 most promising young Israelis.
With over two decades of experience in the field of digital content, Ron has participated in numerous political and social campaigns. He helped run the digital activity of senior public officials, and worked in various NGOs. Ron is a fundamentally optimistic man, who believes that Israel can be changed and so can people. Lives in Tel Aviv.