When Social Justice Activists Meet Techies

Article Summary
Israel announced elections will be held in September, which means the summer is about to heat up. Sima Kadmon reports on a new movement created by prominent social entrpreneurs who plan to effect change outside the political world, and inside the virtual one. 

Sometime in May, during the Knesset's summer session, a date for new elections is likely to be set. At around the same time, a new social movement, unlike any we have seen before, will be launched. Its objectives are to reform Israel's political map and society. Away from the limelight, a group of prominent social entrepreneurs are setting up Uru ("Awaken"), a movement that aims to represent the civic majority.

Sound outlandish? Naïve? Pretentious? Is this not just one more movement founded close to an election, calling itself social but actually winking at politics? It is understandable why some take the establishment of this new social movement with more than an iota of skepticism. After all, we have seen quite a few movements in recent years that were founded with much fanfare, but which ultimately faded away with deafening silence. Had it not been for a group of earnest and successful people, who are identified with professional and social activism more than with politics, maybe there would have been good reason to have doubts about this new movement.

Yet it is hard to remain indifferent when the founders consist of a group of illustrious and successful figures. To name a few, the movement comprises the likes of Marius Necht, one of Check Point's founders; Roni Duek, who made a remarkable contribution to the tertiary sector through Sheatufim and Zionism 2000; Dr. Yoav Ben Dror, a businessman and financier; Attorney Hagit Bachar, who voluntarily co-runs educational and social NGOs ; Eyal Melamed, a former senior official in the Israeli defense establishment who also voluntarily co-runs social NGOs; and Eli Alalouf, the director-general of the Rashi Foundation. The movement boasts many more people who are known for their social involvement, alongside eminent lawyers and accountants, as well as young adults from the social protest movements and the student body.

Tomer Treves, the movement's director-general, brings in his vast experience from the high-tech world as well as his social and political activism. His book, Licking the Elbow, published in Hebrew a few years ago, foresaw the advent of this social protest. Similarly to the movement's other co-founders, Treves believes that there is a broad consensus in Israel on a large number of key social issues, such as education, reduction of inequities, personal security, electoral system change, and a more egalitarian share of the national burden. This stands in marked contrast to the society's division over diplomatic and security-related issues. It is with this understanding that Uru's founders agreed to shelve the latter from the movement's agenda at this stage.

What distinguishes this group of people is the fact that they are not looking for a platform to create a political party. Nor are they seeking money and fame, which they already have in abundance. What truly drives them is a genuine desire to transform society. They feel that democracy has stopped representing the majority, which — in turn — should be motivated to bring about political change in order to remedy the fundamental ills of the civic agenda.

Hundreds of people will convene [soon] at an industrial building in Tel Aviv to get acquainted with Uru. Unlike other movements, a press conference will not be held; out with the dated format of a lackluster stage, featuring a long dais, soft drinks, and the same old familiar faces. Gearing up to operate differently, the movement has set itself aggressive yet measurable objectives to mobilize a large cadre of new members.

The lynch pin of its activity is a sophisticated method of staging discussions via social networks and smartphones. This endeavor is headed by Dor Konforty, a doctoral student in brain research, who stood out during the social protest in Tel Aviv as he was trying to organize an Internet-based discussion forum. He currently leads the development of a virtual 'Public Square' that will enable everyone to actively participate in these discussions, thus influencing the movement's activity and Israel's agenda. Uru's founders have already demonstrated their competence by helping projects that sprang from the social protest. While still in its inceptive stage, the movement assisted other fledgling projects, such as Mitkedim, by providing money and venues in a bid to induct young social activists into its ranks.

The movement's founders are too seasoned to believe that it can leave a footprint in one fell swoop. So they are here to stay. On the other hand, they balk at getting over exposure, shunning what might reek of partisanship.

Partisanship? No. Political Clout? A resounding yes.  

Found in: society, social justice movement, politics, israel, high tech, elections

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