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A Start-Up Nation for Zionist causes

Israel’s new generation of NGOs are lean, mean and surprisingly effective.

The Jerusalem Day flag march arrives at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, June 15, 2021. Photo by Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
The Jerusalem Day flag march arrives at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, June 15, 2021. Photo by Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at [email protected]

Israel is rightly appreciated as a fount of innovation in a vast array of technologies and industries. Being a Start-Up Nation demands a mindset that looks at matters afresh, without being constrained by the way things have always been done.

To have a Start-Up Nation mindset is to have vision, see the big picture and move towards the fulfillment of that vision.

It also entails the willingness to create something new and possibly unprecedented, rather than await approval or direction from others.

Happily, this mindset is not only prevalent in the private sphere, but also—though less visibly—in the realm of organizations seeking to strengthen and defend Zionist values and policies in Israel.

There is a growing coterie of individuals and organizations who understand that the blessings of Zionism, Jewish sovereignty and control of our own land cannot be taken for granted. As Herzl knew, Zionism and its logical extension, the State of Israel, had to be willed into being—“im tirtzu.”

But the willing of Zionism and Israel is a constant process, always facing new problems and seeking new opportunities.

The new Zionist NGOs have proven themselves an essential part of Israeli society. Think of the amazing contribution made by groups like Regavim, which call attention to illegal construction. Ad Kan points out the lies of certain Israeli “human rights” organizations. Im Tirtzu and NGO Monitor address foreign government funding of anti-Zionist Israeli organizations. Organizations like B’yadenu have relentlessly pressed for Jewish civil rights on the Temple Mount.

Realistically, if these organizations were not front and center, it is quite likely that the problems they have raised would have gone unaddressed.

These NGOs did not simply emerge fully-formed. They too were willed into existence. In part, this was done by a small fund that has been instrumental in identifying nascent organizations worthy of support and incubating them with seed funding, organizational advice and networking opportunities.

This small fund is the Israel Independence Fund, which since 2007 has had conspicuous success in identifying fledgling organizations with the potential to make a difference in Israeli society.

Led by its Executive Director Aharon Pulver, the IIF has shown great foresight both in identifying important social issues and discovering those capable of addressing them. Perhaps some of that insight comes from the fact that Pulver lives on Israel’s periphery, in the Western Galilee, and is therefore familiar with some of Israel’s most serious challenges. It may also give him the critical distance necessary to think beyond the conventional wisdom that prevails in the center of the country.

The amazing thing about both the IIF and the organizations it has incubated is how lean they are financially. They have proven that there is no correlation between ample funding and ample effectiveness. Some would say the reverse: As with start-up companies, modest funding has forced these NGOs to be creative, innovative and careful that financial resources are allocated appropriately.

Of course, the real reward for those who steer these groups is not financial. It is the knowledge that they have accomplished something important. That they have made a difference.

By those standards, these organizations are among the richest in Israel, and the IIF could hold its own against the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. At the end of the day, it is effectiveness and impact that count.

In the new government that is likely to be formed, one should expect these organizations to be visible and vocal in calling upon our leaders to address many issues that have been managed but not addressed. These NGOs understand that the citizens of Israel voted for strong resolve in addressing long-festering problems, and that these NGOs will be tireless in advocating for solutions.

Judging by the accomplishments of these Zionist NGOs and the fund that has helped them find their footing, the spirit of the Start-Up Nation is alive and well not just in Israeli businesses, but Israeli activist groups as well.

Douglas Altabef is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, as well as a board member of the Israel Independence Fund and B’yadenu. He can be reached at [email protected]

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