Shaqued Morag, Peace Now’s new executive director, has clear ideas for how to make the organization a stronger presence in the Israeli political landscape. Bring Shalom Achshav back to its roots as a broad-based movement through a smart and focused outreach program. Concentrate on the Knesset too. The settlers have become a very influential pressure group in the Israeli parliament. Peace Now must become an effective counterweight, she says.

These are big challenges to undertake in today’s hard-right political climate in Israel. But Morag is unquestionably equipped for the job. Bright, articulate, confident, committed, Morag has tons of relevant experience under her belt for someone who’s only 33 years old. Over the past ten years, she has evolved from undergraduate student, to anti-poverty and women’s rights community organizer, to a mainstay of the Meretz Party, and now to the helm of Israel’s premier peace movement. It was at Meretz that she learned about the inner workings of the Knesset – knowledge she intends to put to use for Peace Now.

“We want to make our concerns about the occupation and creeping annexation part of the day-to-day discourse in the Knesset. The next election is on the horizon. Now is the time for us to get the attention of politicians and the public. We want as many parties as possible to deal with the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will push them to make the conflict part of their platforms.”

Already before Morag’s arrival, Peace Now had been active in the Knesset through a project by a volunteer activist to feed speaking points and information on settlements to Knesset members. Morag is widening the initiative and making it a regular aspect of the organization’s activities. The aim is to keep close watch on committee work, debates and legislative developments, and to bring Shalom Achshav’s extensive research and cogent arguments to bear on discussions. The organization doesn’t just target sympathetic politicians. It strives to get the ear of any and all MKs. Plus, when visible protest is in order, Shalom Achshav is front and centre.

Nation-state law protest

An important issue that has arisen since Morag took office is the infamous nation-state law. She is proud of how Shalom Achshav has raised its voice against a law that enshrines ultra-nationalist values. During the final debate, movement activists displayed a black flag in the Knesset visitors’ gallery. Beyond the Knesset, Shalom Achshav continues to shape the discourse and lead the protests. It has created a balcony banner that says: “I’m ashamed of the nation-state law” in both Hebrew and Arabic. It is promoting videos with the same dual-language message made by individual Israelis.

Some might argue that the nation-state law is purely a “domestic” issue and has nothing to do with the West Bank or the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Morag argues the opposite is true.

“The nation-state law is part of an escalating trend of bills aimed at changing the nature of the country, making it less democratic. We fear that legislation to come will be even more radical. Already, law-by-law, the government is creating a situation in the West Bank which privileges Jews over Arabs. There are different laws for Israeli settlers and for Arab residents. Now the nation-state law is bringing the apartheid-like normality of the territories into Israel proper. It’s an example of how the occupation is changing the nature of the whole country.”

But Morag fears an even more sinister possibility: that the nation-state law is preparing the ground for the annexation of the West Bank by creating a system in which Jewish rights take precedence over civil rights. If such principles are already legally entrenched, Israel could more easily absorb the land of the West Bank without giving the Arabs who live there equal rights.

Morag points out too that the new law, which enshrines the priority of Jewish settlement, is, at the very least, a nod and a wink to the settlement enterprise on the West Bank. Moreover, by sanctioning discrimination against Arabs, the law strengthens the camp that is unwilling to make compromises for peace.

Fortunately, the nation-state law has unleashed a groundswell of opposition in Israel, which could help bring new energy into the peace camp. Morag wants to better harness potential support. To turn “soft” interest in the organization into concrete activism through more efficient outreach. One way she intends to do so is through an enhanced database, which collects information on supporter demographics and characteristics. This enables better recruitment and targeted messages.

Ten years ago, Shaqued Morag left a small-town home in central Israel to study philosophy in Jerusalem. From pondering the big questions about human exixtence to social activism – for Morag there was no contradiction. Clearly she’s among those who represent the best and brightest of today’s Israel. Shalom Achshav is lucky to have her.