Tuesday, March 7, 2017

On the road to de-institutionalization, some winners, some losers

Marlee Matlin [Image Source]
A couple of weeks ago, the Ruderman Foundation bestowed an award on Oscar-winning actress, Marlee Matlin ["Oscar-winning deaf actress, who is Jewish, ‘has broken down barriers and changed perceptions worldwide’", Times of Israel, February 23, 2017]. Matlin, who is both Jewish and deaf, will receive the fourth annual Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion. She intends to visit Israel in June 2017 to receive the award which comes with a $100,000 grant.

I would love to use that opportunity to educate Matlin about the sort of inclusion that the Ruderman Foundation promotes. Because, while its staff members do write and speak much about true inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities, the Foundation has also evidently developed a close relationship with Aleh, the leading chain of large, closed institutions for people with disabilities in Israel.

That "marriage" is akin to the tobacco industry hitching up with the AMA, or Coca Cola with an anti-obesity organization.

Oops. That last marriage actually took place [see Popular Science, December 2, 2015] But when its existence - and the influence exerted by Coca Cola on the organization - were revealed by the New York Times, the partners promptly "divorced":
The Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), an organization founded to help combat obesity, will be disbanding after months of criticism following a New York Times report back in August that revealed Coca-Cola had funded the organization. The group wiped its website clean, leaving a post that said it was discontinuing operations "due to resource limitations".
Image Source
True, that setback has not deterred soft drink giants Coca Cola and Pepsi from continuing to lobby and invest huge sums of money to distract the public and the government from the dangers of soft drinks. (See "Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been quietly lobbying against anti-obesity measures in the US", The Journal, October 15, 2016)

Nevertheless, the hasty disbanding of that organization, GEBN, contrasts with Ruderman Foundation’s attitude towards Aleh.

A year ago, we alerted the Ruderman Foundation -- via an article I wrote for this blog ["Israel is in love with institutions", April 4, 2016], in a May 2016 Algemeiner op ed, and in my husband's phone conversation with its spokesperson -- to the hypocrisy in its "partnership" with a chain of institutions for people with disabilities.

The Foundation says on its website that it is committed to the following:
"Guided by our Jewish values, we advocate for and advance the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout our society; foster a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders; and model the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide..."
Aleh's warehousing of infants, children and adults with disabilities is nothing short of the antithesis of that purported goal.

The Ruderman Foundation did not respond to us in any substantive way.

To this day, you can still find a blog post on its website ["Positive Impact"] extolling the virtues of Aleh Negev and its so-called prisoner rehabilitation program. It's a post that dates back to October 2013. (Here's some of my December 2016 criticism of that program: "Can Aleh get its prisoners story straight?")

You can also still find on Aleh's Facebook page a post from 2015 boasting of its partnership with the Ruderman Foundation. The Foundation doesn't seem disturbed by Aleh's exploitation of its name to erase the taint of exclusion and isolation.

Today, as I was typing this post, Bizchut began circulating a stellar video clip ("Make room") promoting inclusion that it produced with sponsorship from the Ruderman Foundation. (In Hebrew and with English-language subtitles.)

Bizchut urged us, along with all its supporters, to help circulate this powerful work (which has gotten more than 100,000 views in the past few days). So despite my above diatribe against Ruderman, I urge you all to watch it and share it widely.

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