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Lists for next election exclude important representation for Olim

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Up to 250,000 Anglo olim in Israel unite around core issues, but their voices may not be heard in the next Knesset. (Photo: www.nbn.org.il)

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While MK Naftali Bennett who heads Yamina is the son of American immigrants and MK Sharon Haskel, number five in Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, was born into Toronto’s Israeli community, it was recently reported that none of Israel’s political parties have decided to give a realistic Knesset seat to any English-speaking immigrant to the State of Israel, after it had become a tradition in recent years to always have at least one Anglo Knesset member.

This comes after a recent zoom conference titled “the Role of Anglos in Politics: Past, Present and Future” was published on MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh’s Facebook page. MK Cotler-Wunsch, the daughter of Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, is presently the Knesset’s in-house Anglo, yet she will not be in the next Knesset, after she left the Blue and White Party and was turned down by both Yamina and New Hope.

In the webinar, MK Cotler-Wunsh stressed the importance of the Knesset having an Anglo member: “There are 250,000 Anglo olim united around these core issues (e.g., Sundays off, establishing proportional representation in Israel, Aliyah as a national priority, professional training for new immigrants, fighting BDS, etc.). What is needed is for those voices to lean in and to say we expect to be heard. We demand a stake in this. To do that, we need not only to serve in the past and present Knesset’s but also the future Knesset. We got multiple identities and the ability to bring diverse viewpoints to the table. Those multiple identities coexist in each of us. That is where the Jewish and democratic state of Israel needs us to lean in. Our voices must trickle up.”

MK Cotler-Wunsch discussed how the many years she spent in Canada influenced her to intervene so that Jewish immigrants who gave birth during the pandemic in Israel would still be able to have their families beside them during these difficult times: “COVID-19 has our office swamped with thousands of very important personal and national issues that need to be addressed. The real issues in which we have to create this transformation of good governance, rather than bad government and of creating holistic policy on all the issues, from education to coping with addictions to Israel’s standing in the international arena. The uniqueness of our voices, our understandings are so deeply appreciated. For the sake of the entire Israeli public, for the sake of Israel’s future, the State of Israel needs the voices of olim.”

As a Knesset member, Cotler-Wunsch is the Chair of the Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Use and Chair of the Subcommittee on Israel-Diaspora Relations. She is also a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense, Law, Children’s Rights, Women’s Rights, and Immigration and Integration Committees as well as the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. In addition, she is the Chair of the Canada-Israel Friendship Group, is the Knesset’s Official Representative on Matters Relating to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and is a member of the Knesset’s delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and European Parliament.

According to Cotler-Wunsch, her experience growing up in the home of former Canadian Justice minister Irwin Cotler helped her to tackle all these issues: “COVID-19 invented nothing. It only exposed and magnified the challenges of every society in every country, probably each of us on an individual level as well. But certainly, for the State of Israel, it exposed our challenges as a country. What olim bring is the bridge to Diaspora Jewry. Anglos and other olim understand what it is to look at Israel from the outside in.”

Former MK Yehuda Glick from the Likud Party concurred: “Principles of inclusiveness and western style of dialogue is something exceedingly difficult to find in the Knesset and a lot of our background is based on that. Israelis do not really know the Anglo Jewish communities. For me, it was especially important to bring that voice as much as I could.” In fact, in the webinar, it was suggested that a separate birthright program should be created, so that Israelis will have the opportunity to come and learn about the Jewish communities in North America and what they got to offer the State of Israel.

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Former MK Dov Lipman, who served in the Knesset as a member of the Yesh Atid Party from 2013 to 2015, concurred that his experience growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland assisted him in writing better environmental legislation. In fact, Lipman is a major part of the reason why plastic bags are no longer given away for free in the State of Israel at supermarkets. The Knesset legislation which made this a reality was proposed by him and he based it off legislation he witnessed in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Former MK Lipman said that Anglos should not be deterred from running for the Knesset: “There was a fear that I had that I was an outsider. Certainly, the language was a struggle, culture, etc. Of course, a lot of the camaraderie and back and forwards I was lost in. I did not have the background of coming from the army as many did. But what I found quickly is that I was admired by my colleagues for I made Aliyah. They always said that people always think of picking up and going to live in America, and you came here. They spoke about how I brought with me a freshness of Zionism and a passion for Israel’s future. It actually became an asset rather than anything negative.”

Lipman explained, “As I was the first Anglo MK in thirty years, my office was bombarded by thousands of thousands of Anglos, who felt that they had their congressman in the Knesset. We made it our business to turn our office into a hub of activities to help Anglos with whatever needs they had.”

Former MK Michael Oren, who in the past served as Israel’s Ambassador to the US, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and an MK from the Kulano Party, had a different perspective than Lipman: “There was not a language barrier for me but a satirical barrier. I decided from my first day in the Knesset out of respect for the institution of the Knesset that I was going to wear a suit and a tie every day. That approach was alien to many members of the Knesset. Some of them came in t-shirts and jeans. Anglos bring a certain sense of sensibility. We also bring a memory. Unlike most communities in Israel, where the people originated from countries where the roots of democracy were shallow or had no roots at all, we come from countries that have an 800-year tradition of developing democracy, going back to the Magna Carta.”

A meeting as a teenager with then–Israeli ambassador to the United States, Yitzhak Rabin, strengthened Michael Oren's decision to move to Israel. (Photo: fathomjournal.org)

“People talk about democracy frequently in the Knesset,” Oren noted, “but they got a very narrow idea of what they mean. Anglos got so much to contribute. I think that we bring a unique perspective.”

“There are going to be around 250,000 new olim over the next five years,” Rabbi David Fine, who heads the Anglo Vision, concluded. “We want to make sure those new olim really stay here and end up contributing to the State of Israel. We want to make sure that there is greater integration counselling and Aliyah counselling so that Anglos can contribute to the extent that they possibly can.” Rabbi Fine referred to the first-ever poll on Anglos’ attitude in the State of Israel which showed “Most Anglos in Israel said that they felt part of a community. This does not mean that they don’t want to integrate as Israelis, but there is no denying that we share this common background. Perhaps the greatest finding in the poll was that Anglos vote for issues rather than ideology. So, while we may differ on issues related to diplomacy and the peace process, there are many issues and policies that we can unite on. This means that we can leverage the Anglo community so that we can have a greater say at the table.”

However, this great potential will not be realized for this election, unless former MK Yehuda Glick wins the presidency, which he is presently running for. The elections for Israel’s presidency will be conducted separately from the Knesset elections.

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”  

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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