Anglo-Israeli Knesset Contenders Have High Hopes for Jewish Home

December 28, 2014  

In 79 days, Israelis will go to the polls and vote for the makeup of Israel’s 20th Knesset – but before that happens, the parties need to decide on their lists of candidates. 

So while election fever hasn’t quite set in just yet, primaries fever has. That is, at least for the three parties that hold democratic primaries: on the Right, Likud and Jewish Home; on the Left, Labor.

Out of the three – barring Netanyahu’s embarrassing tiff with the Likud party’s comptroller over the legality of his leadership bid – the Jewish Home party’s primaries are generating the most attention and excitement. One of the main reasons for that is the party’s unprecedented drive to widen its appeal among right-wing secular Israelis – Jewish and non-Jewish alike – while maintaining its staunch religious-Zionist character and platform. It’s a tricky, and for some controversial, juggling act, but one which party leader Naftali Bennett is confident he can pull off. All indications are that he is on to something: current polls show the Jewish Home emerging as the third-largest party and a major force in the next Knesset, with anywhere from 15 to 18 seats.

So while the majority of MKs will still hail from the religious-Zionist sector, a significant number are likely to be from outside of it. Some of the “less traditional” candidates running in the party’s primaries range from former Yesha Council head Dani Dayan, to Muslim Arab mother of three Anett Haskia; and from veteran Israeli news editor Yinon Magal, to a former Peace Now-activist-turned-nationalist, Dr. Anat Roth.

But a less controversial – and some might say much more natural – feature of the list of potential candidates is the notable number of Anglo-Israelis standing. Wider representation of “Anglos” is something many within the party argue is long overdue, given that a large proportion of olim from English-speaking countries are ideologically-driven religious-Zionists.

The party, he quips, “is the natural choice for those who have decided to make Israel their Jewish Home. The deadline for our registration drive is Tuesday, so I call on all western olim to register, join the party, and to vote for our Anglo candidates in the upcoming primaries on January 14th.

“It is about time we have our own voice represented by one of our own who will push for accountability, transparency and representation.”

Arutz Sheva got to speak with the party’s three “Anglo” Knesset hopefuls, and gave them a chance to tell our readers why they think they’d best represent the interests of Anglo-Israeli voters. 

Name: Uri Bank

Age: 46

Made Aliyah from Chicago, in 1980, aged 12.

Lives in Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion.

Current job: Secretary General of Jewish Home Knesset faction.

Why are you standing to be a Jewish Home party MK?

“For many years I’ve served alongside MKs, and I’ve worked in the Knesset and government for the past 20 years. In all, I think that I’d be a good representative for the party due to the ideology I represent, and specifically for the Anglo community in Israel.

“The wealth of experience I have is unparalleled by any other candidate; there’s no one else who’s been working in the Knesset so intimately close to MKs and the legislative process, and also in government positions, as I have.”

Tell us a little more about your experience.

“Serving as Secretary General of the faction has given me an intimate knowledge of the legislative system and how best to utilize it. What’s more, I have actually run as an MK before as well, so I know how to run an election campaign.

“In 2001 I first served as Director of the National Union faction before moving to work in the tourism ministry after the assassination of Rehavam Ze’evi, when my mentor and boss at the time Rabbi Benny Elon moved in to fill his position. In 2009 I became party director again and was number five on the National Union party’s Knesset list [prior to its unification with the Jewish Home. In those elections, the National Union party received four seats – ed.].

“So it really isn’t my first time. I think I’d be an eloquent force within the Knesset for Eretz Yisrael and for Anglo-Israelis in particular.”

What makes you the ideal Knesset Member?

“As I said, my political experience for one means I can really hit the ground running. But I actually have experience in other fields as well which are equally important.

“For example my experience in public speaking and hasbara [Israel advocacy – ed.] – and in particular the diplomatic work I have done in Israel and abroad as founder of the Israel Allies Foundation, which builds connections with parliamentarians and policy-makers around the world in support of Israel.

“But one of the things I believe makes me unique as a candidate is my record on promoting alternatives to the two-state-solution.

“It’s not enough for us on the Right to say ‘No’ to what the Left wants to do – that it’s immoral, dangerous, unworkable, etc. – we need to come up with our own alternative plan to bring stability and peace to Israel and the Middle East. 

“That’s why I helped draft the Israeli Initiative in 2007, which calls to annex all of Judea and Samaria, and to affiliate the Palestinians who live in that area with Jordan.

“Of course, today there are various other plans floating around. I’m actually really proud of the plan put forward by our party head, Naftali Bennett, which is really the common denominator of all the nationalist parties in Israel [the “Stability Initiative” – ed.]. He calls to annex Area C, where all the Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria are located, and which makes up 60% of the region. What he’s advocating is (to say): at least as a first stage let’s do that and achieve a level of calm and stability in the region, and resolve the status at least of that area, and then we’ll be left with the question of what to do with Areas A and B. I think it’s a sensible approach.

“This concept (of an alternative peace plan) is something that I’ve been working on for many years, and it’s another unique aspect of my candidacy: we don’t currently have many right-wing leaders and politicians in the system who have a plan that they can speak about per sa.”

Name one priority you would pursue if you became an MK.

“There’s a large Anglo community in Israel which feels strongly that there are various issues which just aren’t being addressed by any of the parties. Coming from my background I understand what those sensitivities are. I know for example there’s a lot of frustration with the political system as a whole, particularly regarding a lack of transparency, accountability and governance – so I’m proposing electoral reform to address those problems.

“I believe these problems can be solved by splitting Israel into geographic regions and making 50% of the Knesset accountable to a specific constituency. It’s a model many Anglo-Israelis are familiar with, as it happens.

“Unfortunately MKs have a tendency to forget about the general public from election to election, and suddenly they wake up again just before the next general elections. This would change that; electoral reform would bring a higher level of accountability because MKs would have to directly answer to the people who voted them in.

“But it’s also an issue of the language. Many Anglos feel they don’t have a voice in the Knesset that can answer the phone, and answer their questions in English. That’s why all of my staff will be made up of English-speakers, and if elected we will be available to all voters – not only those who voted for the Jewish Home – to deal with their needs and give them a voice.

“Finally, I would like to see a two-day weekend – Saturday and Sunday. I think it would enhance Shabbat observance in Israel, and change the way Shabbat is perceived by secular Israelis. Today it’s the one day in the week where they can run around and get everything done. If Sunday becomes a weekend Shabbat can be more like what Shabbat is meant to be.

“Even if in the Jewish home there are other candidates who are Anglo-born, none of them have committed themselves to these issues in the same way.”

If you could send one message to other Anglos, what would it be?

“Get up and participate. There’s no point just sitting back and complaining about the problems – be a part of the solution. That’s why the Jewish Home party recently started a new membership drive – which ends this Tuesday. It’s a small window of opportunity for people to get up and influence the makeup of the next Knesset.”

 

Name: Yossi Fuchs

Age: 43

Made Aliyah from Brooklyn, New York, in 1974, aged 3.

Lives in Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion.

Current job: Chairman of Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, attorney and expert in constitutional law.

“Before anything else, the job of Knesset Members is legislation. But it’s very complicated. On the one hand, we have Basic Laws and regular laws – but on the other hand we have a very dominant High Court that sometimes overrules the Knesset.

“Because I’ve been dealing with these issues for many years, I’m much more capable than anyone else to take care of this problem from within the Knesset – to put the High Court back where it’s supposed to be, and to give the Knesset the power to legislate, not the Bagatz (High Court). And that has to be done from within the Knesset.”

But why specifically in the Jewish Home?

“Because it’s a matter of Jewish identity and I believe the Jewish Home is the party which really champions that cause.

“The High Court has used its power to diminish the Jewish identity of the State of Israel – to emphasize only the democratic character of the country, while sidelining or even ignoring its Jewish character.

“If at the end of the day Israel is just another democracy, then we haven’t fulfilled the Zionist dream. We came back here after 2,000 years to form a Jewish state, and the Bagatz is using its power to erase the country’s Jewish identity. I’d push for Basic Laws that would frame Jewish identity as the most important aspect of Israel’s character.”

What makes you the ideal Knesset Member?

“It makes you an expert. And if you come as an expert you can manage to actually change things.”

Name one priority you would pursue if you became an MK – you’ve kind of answered this one already, haven’t you?

“Tackling the High Court’s power is the main thing, but it includes three steps.

“The first step is to change the committee that selects the judges. Currently, the committee is comprised of nine people, three of whom are acting High Court judges. That means that as a bloc they have de-facto vetoing power over the whole process! The rest of the committee is pretty balanced between the Justice Minister, and MKs and legal experts from the government and opposition. But ultimately you can’t get anyone in without the approval (of the sitting High Court judges).

“So currently it’s impossible to change the makeup of the Bagatz. That’s why you only have maybe one judge out of 14 who has more of a ‘right-wing’ outlook.

“The second step is to address the Basic Law which defines the High Court’s authority [Basic Law; The Judiciary – ed.]. Most people don’t know this, but there is no law which says that the High Court has the authority to overrule the Knesset – it’s just that there’s nothing which says otherwise! So they basically took that authority without it actually being given to them. That needs to be changed to make the limitations on their authority clearer.

“Finally, we need to legislate to make sure that the State of Israel’s Jewish identity is primary. There is a difference between the identity of the state, and what system of government it uses (democracy).

“The current Jewish State law is a start but it is far too watered-down. We need to push this issue the whole way.”

If you could send one message to other Anglos, what would it be?

“Expect more from the system, and believe you can change it.

“Streamlining Israeli bureaucracy is a major problem for Anglos, and there is much which can be done from within the Knesset to make it much easier to be served by the system in your day-to-day lives.”

  

Name: Ze’ev Schwartz

Age: 47

Made Aliyah from Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1985 (“on election day it will be exactly 30 years!”)

Lives in Shoham, central Israel.

Current job: CEO of Torah Mitzion.

Why are you standing to be a Jewish Home party MK?

“For the 30 years I’ve lived in Israel I’ve been active in the religious-Zionist world. It’s the track I’ve taken since making Aliyah; I studied in Yeshivat Har Etzion, did my hesder army service in Givati (infantry brigade), and went to Bar Ilan University, where I was a member of the student union, as well as being active in the workers’ union.

“Then, nearly 20 years ago I set up Torah Mitzion. Now we have over 1,000 shlichim (volunteers) worldwide. I was Secretary General of Wold Bnei Akiva for five years, and set up the Lev Yehudi Jewish outreach organization in India to cater for all the Israeli backpackers there.

“All those three projects have been about promoting religious-Zionist, Torah values.

“But what I’ve also seen is that although international Zionist organizations do a fantastic job – whether the Jewish Agency, Bnei Akiva or the WZO – the address for making real change is the Knesset.

“So I see myself as a representative of global Zionism; I want to put that concept on the map of the agenda of the Jewish Home party. 

“Naftali Bennett has done well to turn things around in a very good way for the Jewish Home party – I’d liken him to a strong soccer player like Messi – but of course he needs other team players to support him, and at the moment who is representing world Jewry? Who is representing the battle against assimilation? Who’s representing stopping yerida (emigration from Israel) and promoting aliyah and Jewish education worldwide?”

What makes you the ideal Knesset Member?

“I believe that I have the experience, the results and the ability to go to the next level of representing global Zionism from the Knesset.

“My sense of mission and purpose is absolute. In the public sphere you need to be willing to give up on your private interests, even your own personal privacy, for the greater good. Eight years ago when I was drafted to go into Lebanon I had only just been appointed head of World Bnei Akiva, but I had to put aside my personal professional aspirations and that experience taught me a lot.

“I’m coming with a world of experience, and with an agenda that needs to be dealt with and that’s going to bring extra votes for the Jewish Home.

“I believe that there are 10 seats out there which are potential olim voters – if I was on the opening team we could get many more votes and encourage those olim to vote for the Jewish Home party, and give hope for all of those making aliyah that you can get involved with Israeli society and be represented in the Knesset.”

Name one priority you would pursue if you became an MK.

“Firstly, I’m a team player so I’m not going to promise things that are not in line with the Jewish Home agenda – there’s a bigger game.

“But secondly, I feel we need an active voice for diaspora Jewry within the Knesset. Naftali Bennett currently holds the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, and that’s great, but we can do even more.

“Personally, I understand what goes on in the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, or in Perth, or Venice, or Montreal. I’ve been across the Jewish world over the last 20 years more than anyone else, so I know what the concept of assimilation is, what the challenges of aliyah are. I’d want to be a voice, to push legislation that would give more support for organizations working to combat assimilation and promote Jewish identity; to make the aliyah process more friendly; to make it easier for olim to find work and to adjust well in their new country. The bureaucracy needs to be more friendly – and I know how to fight bureaucracy.”

If you could send one message to other Anglos, what would it be?

“To know that Israel can and should have an impact on world Jewry as well. While I was head of Bnei Akiva we – together with other Zionist organizations – successfully lobbied for more Israeli government support.

“And there is so much more to be done – that’s why I believe the Jewish Home should seek to control the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption. As a religious-Zionist party we should be looking to take control of that, and not leave it to Avigdor Liberman.”


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