Impressions from the SDG Coalition Convening June 28, 2021

Dr. David Dunetz, The Heschel Center for Sustainability

The aspiration to develop a universal language that connects human beings wherever they are, and even more so, to generate consensus around shared goals and actions is a complex task these days. The multiplicity of identities and regularly conflicting agendas make this task extremely challenging, especially amid the coronavirus period. However, this goal is precisely what is behind the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (2030 Agenda) intent, or SDGs for short: An attempt to mobilize a global roadmap in the path of amending injustices and substantially improving human life and the natural systems that support life on earth, such as, eradicating poverty, achieving gender equality, contending with the climate crisis, etc.

This complex challenge did not deter over roughly 70 participants from more than 50 civil society organizations and institutions from convening on June 28 at the Na Laga’at Center in Jaffa, for a seminar that addressed updating and implementing SDGs among Israeli society. Attorney Netta Loevy, from the nonprofit Itach-Ma’aki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice, one of the leaders of the coalition of organizations, warned in the opening lecture of the “excessive sweetness” of the 17 goals, like the spoon full of sugar from Mary Poppins’ song, which is needed to swallow the bitter medicine. It compels us, as members of civil society, to stand guard to ensure that the vulnerable and weak among society are not left behind.

This sobering gaze accompanied the holistic framework’s sense of necessity throughout the day, alongside the failures in implementing Agenda 2030 in Israel. Such conclusions emerged from a new report launched by the coalition on the implementation of UN goals amid the coronavirus crisis, presented by Advocate Shirin Batshon of Itach-Ma’aki, among the writers of the report. One such example was the fact that there was a sharp increase in cases of violence against women and domestic violence throughout the period of the coronavirus.

In the absence of sufficient preparation and budget depletion, civil society organizations were compelled to provide a broader response and remind government ministries of their basic moral duty. Former MK Miki Haimovich, chair of the Heschel Center’s board, echoed these words in a panel of experts after presenting the report: “What we experienced amid the coronavirus just demonstrates how acute and urgent it is to achieve these goals. We have seen… how amid major crises, most systems are unable to contend with a major crisis.”

Dr. Einat Ronen, who oversees the field of Cross-Sector Partnerships within the Public Governance Committee of the Prime Minister’s Office, reinforced these statements by noting SDGs’ potential to contend with the future: “In fact, this epidemic has changed the course of human life. From an observational perspective – our social limitations have grown clear, the crises and gaps between us, what needs strengthened have been clarified. Amid complex crises, cross-sector partnerships are necessary. Civil society is the basis for progress.”

​​The silver lining on the day of the seminar was undoubtedly the very existence of the meeting, which was a sign of renewed and increased cooperation around the coalition’s work. The wide range of organizations (approximately 60% of the participants attended for the first time) is accustomed to working in separate domains: equality organizations, peace, climate, environment, food, etc. In working groups, these representatives discussed the question of how the holistic vision may serve to connect and enhance power for policy change. In addition, the participants were informed of the expansion of the coalition’s project in the Negev through a  three-year project.

With all the complexity of its implementation, Agenda 2030 retains an important potential to create a connecting language (a “connective hook”) to drive joint action toward influence and change. Remember, as is known, like any new language, this also requires practice. This is what the coalition’s work aims toward this year: Dedicated inter-organizational working groups will soon be established to monitor and design policies for the implementation of SDGs in Israel.