01/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Right to Be Hopeful

A powerful intersection between the personal and the professional can be good reason to pause, contemplate, and perhaps even try and conjecture an op-ed or a blog post. Such is my predicament, as I recall that striking talkback from a most thrilled individual writing from somewhere on this planet, featured on the New York Times website after Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States of America: "America, welcome back!" Whether America is "back", or not, of course matters a great deal -- globally, politically, and yes, also personally. You see, I've spent some of the most formative years of my life in the US, and these personal experiences still play a significant role in my identity. In addition, professionally speaking, being the director of an Israeli human rights organization, I'm excited by the possibility that this may indeed be a time for "opportunity and unyielding hope," when thinking globally about human rights. So, personally and professionally, I sense that it may indeed be the time to be hopeful.

From a human rights perspective, the following words from Obama's victory speech resonate strongly: "to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright -- tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." Truth be told, America's beacon didn't shine very brightly in recent years. If Lady Liberty stands tall for the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, extraordinary renditions, and torture -- then it is not only the US Constitution that hurts: the fallout is global, and quite devastating. If all this damage were to be reversed, as the president-elect has recently reassured, then that beacon might truly burn brightly again.

In Israel, of course, "the war on terror" -- and the extreme, dangerous legislation that it supposedly justifies -- did not begin on 9/11. But fighting such measures, in public and in court, became so much more difficult once similar examples were in effect in the USA. Some key examples from this part of the world include Israel's "Illegal combatants" law and draconian provisions for the detention and interrogation of terror suspects; the casual, almost normative, usage of secret "evidence"; the state's noncompliance with the Supreme Court's anti-torture ruling; and more surveillance powers, without proper judicial scrutiny.

Well, there's a powerful American who now proclaims that these kinds of policies cannot provide the basis for a nation's true strength. Perhaps now more Israelis will join the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in affirming that that logic, and that moral, applies globally, not only in North America but also in the Middle East.

That American has a background in community organizing; he also happens to be educated as a lawyer. To me, that sounds a lot like the people I have the privilege to be working with these days: attorneys, educators, campaigners and others, who gave up on potential lucrative positions, in order to work as part of a human rights community, promoting equality and liberty with "unyielding hope." Perhaps our work in the next four, or eight, years, will be somewhat easier.

I began with the personal and wish to likewise conclude. For me, it was in America, while in school in Boston, that I was distracted from my intended future in astrophysical research. It was then that I discovered the strength and potential of civil society non-governmental organizations. Where "working for a non-profit" stopped being a joke and became a potential reality. Where networking and fundraising for a cause you believe in became an opportunity to invite others to invest in promoting values, change, and hope. I guess that I will always be grateful for what I learned in that country during those years. It is with that gratitude, warmth, and optimism that I look forward demanding a current right to be hopeful, and wholeheartedly greet America: welcome back.