Israeli Think Tanks and Social Affairs NGOs Come Into Their Own

The flurry of extra-parliamentary activity is only about a decade old; before that such organizations were chiefly doers, handing out food and the like.

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Round table discussion, Israel Democracy Institute. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A law requiring the state to put 50 shekels ($13) a month into a bank account for every Israeli child is in the works. But it didn’t start with a Knesset member, it started with Yedid, a nonprofit organization that submitted the idea in 2010 to Isaac Herzog, at the time social affairs minister. He didn’t have a chance to promote it before leaving office, so now Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is taking the credit.

In any case, the bill shows the influence of nonpolitical entities on the public debate. The Adva Center has similarly been promoting an idea for ministries to break down their budget spending by gender. Also, the plan to strengthen the north, recently announced by Economy Minister Arye Dery, began with a number of entities including the Neaman Institute at the Technion.

In fact, such organizations as a whole have come in fifth in TheMarker’s 15th annual list of the 100 most influential people in the economy.

Among these nongovernmental entities are doers — and thinkers. Instead of provoking people, they're information suppliers that both MKs and the public rely on. If in the past policymakers had to send aides or rifle through the archives themselves, they now receive information from sources like the business press and think tanks.

Organizations of the type include Adva, the Taub Institute, the Israeli Institute for Economic Planning, the Israel Democracy Institute and many others less known such as the Molad Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, the Kohelet Policy Forum, the Citizens Empowerment Center and the Aharon Institute of Economic Policy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

This flurry of extra-parliamentary activity is a fairly recent phenomenon, starting in the middle of the last decade, says media consultant Nissim Duek. Before that, social organizations were chiefly doers, handing out food and so on.

As the industry matured, like all teenagers it did a lot of complaining, but as it came into its own it realized it could exert influence. It used tools borrowed from business and politics; it directly contacted lawmakers and regulators.

MKs have become associated with pet causes: Yesh Atid's Ofer Shelah is targeted by lobbyists for disabled army veterans, Meretz's Zehava Galon by women’s organizations, Joint Arab List's Dov Khenin by green organizations and NGOs helping the Arab community. The "social” lobbyists are studying the new crop of MKs to see how they could help promote their agendas.