Meet Eli Philip – from Haredi to Social Justice Fellow to Progressive Campaigner
Eli Philip sits on a swivel chair in the Zazim offices in Tel Aviv wearing a T-shirt that translates roughly to, “I swear I’m not a traitor.”
Until the age of 10, Eli grew up Haredi in Petach Tikva. His parents had 22 siblings between them, but they intentionally decided to have two children. They had been feeling dissatisfied with the absence of individuality and self-expression in the Haredi world and when his sister was sent home from school because her socks were colorful and not high enough, it was the last straw. The family moved away from ultra-Orthodoxy – and to Philadelphia.
Other influences opened up Eli’s worldview, including studies at liberal Orthodox yeshivas.
As a student at Brandeis University, Eli Philip went to morning minyan, ate in the kosher kitchen – and organised for J Street U. An emotionally difficult summer in Israel during the 2014 Gaza war led Eli to feel he no longer wanted to be involved with Israel. He got as far away as he could, working as a park ranger in Alaska. But when he saw information about NIF/Shatil’s Social Justice Fellowship, he realized that Israel was a part of him – “It’s what I know how to do and what I need to be doing.”
The NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship enables fellows to spend 10 months working at an Israeli social change organization. Eli spent his fellowship year at Zazim. Based on the MoveOn.org model and incubated by NIF, Zazim does mass online organizing for progressive social change in Israel. After a short time, Zazim hired him for an extra day a week and at the end of the Fellowship, they offered him a job.
“Zazim is the most exciting thing happening on the Israeli left,” says Philip enthusiastically. “We are rebuilding a broad-based left in Israel and enabling people to feel proud of being progressive. And we’re demonstrating that being leftist doesn’t just mean opposing the occupation, but supporting the whole spectrum of progressive causes: environmental, social and economic rights, opposing racism…Our goal is to motivate Israelis to act toward a better future. More than 80,000 people participate in our campaigns.”
Philip’s official job is “campaigner.” The staff and membership are Arab and Jewish and the campaigns are in Hebrew and Arabic.
“The DNA of every campaign we do is to legitimize a shared society and a shared future,” says Philip.
Zazim is good at getting publicity. Its lanterns campaign in solidarity with the Gaza electric crisis received broad coverage as did the campaign Philip ran that inspired Israeli pilots and flight crews to refuse to deport refugees.
Philip says the NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellowship was “an unmatched opportunity to come to Israel and plug into the folks who are making change on the ground. The fellowship and Shatil expand one’s notion of what it means to be socially active and progressive in Israel.”
An optimist by nature, Philip says of Israel’s progressive movement, “We are going to win.”