Around seven years ago, after working with various politicians, political parties and organizations, I was approached to work with Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home for the 2009 elections.
My initial reaction was to reject the party as a secular Russian-speaking hard-line party, as many have characterized it. However, rather than dismiss it out of hand, I decided to learn more about what the party stands for beyond the many caricatures that have been built around it by others.
The more I learnt about the party, the more I came to realize that rather than it being a pole opposite of what I identify as and with, it actually is the party closest to my worldview as an Oleh from an English-speaking country, an observant Jew and someone who came home to be part of the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral homeland.
Firstly, as a party started by Olim for Olim it understands the needs and challenges of people who came to Israel from abroad without connections.
Party Chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman came to Israel in the late 1970’s and after finishing the army and university took a series of menial tasks to pay the bills. However, he decided that he wanted to make more of himself and literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps, forming a party of other immigrants to create for the first time in Israeli history a party that protextia did not build.
Yisrael Beytenu, perhaps because it wasn’t another ‘establishment’ party, was always active in setting the agenda and swimming against the politically correct tide. Before many even dreamed of the issues of equalizing the national burden, making a citizen’s benefits commensurate to their contribution and defining legally the meaning of the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish People, Yisrael Beytenu brought these and many other issues to the fore, facing intense opposition and criticism before acceptance in the mainstream.
Additionally, Yisrael Beytenu is the only party that has consistently waved the banner of Aliyah and the continuing paramountcy of “ingathering of the exiles”.
Even today when Aiyah is largely ignored by most in the political arena, Yisrael Beytenu still devotes a large part of its platform towards the essential goal of increasing Aliyah. In the passage under ‘Aliyah, Immigration and Diaspora Jewry’, the party lays out its central importance:
“Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home sees Aliyah to Israel as a strategic asset to the state and an essential and necessary element in the building of our country, state and society. The essence of the Zionist dream is the ‘ingathering of the exiles’.”
Furthermore, as a party of action and not mere words or slogans, Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home has overseen some of the greatest achievements in the realm of Aliyah in a generation. Last year, during 2014, 26,500 Olim arrived in Israel, breaking many records, including a 7% growth in English-speaking Olim.
Under Minister Sofa Landver, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, has also overseen a massive turnaround in the so-called ‘brain drain’ of Israelis living abroad, and has attracted tens of thousands of Israelis living abroad to come home.
This has all been achieved by fighting hard for scarce budgets to improve the rights immigrants receive, like doubling the monthly rental assistance and massively increasing the financial aid that immigrants obtain upon arrival.
Like most Olim, I have in the past ranted about Israel’s hasbara, or public advocacy. However, in the last few years, since Avigdor Liberman became foreign minister, there has been a sea-change in the way we make our case to the world.
For the first time, perhaps since the Olso Accords, the Foreign Ministry is starting to talk about Israel’s rights and not about how much we would compromise for peace.
Whether it is proudly stating our rights in Judea and Samaria, our legitimacy as a Jewish State or the issue of redress for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the Foreign Ministry has returned the issue of Jewish national rights and legitimacy to the international agenda.
For many years, Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home has stood alone on the issue of reforming conversion and marriage and ensuring all Israelis serve their country.
We have never called for a separation of ‘church and state’ because it is impossible to separate the Jewish nation from its religion.
However, we do seek to return the religious state institutions to the national-religious public, whether it is writing the so-called ‘Tzohar Law’, being the first party and the only one throughout the process to publicly stand by national-religious candidate Rabbi David Stav as he stood for the office of Chief Rabbi, and standing by Rabbi Chaim Druckman in reforming conversions so the extreme elements in the rabbinate can not revoke conversions, something unprecedented in Jewish history or halacha.
Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home has always placed a great emphasis on English-speaking Olim. Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home has always had an official English-speaking division with direct access to the highest levels of the party and its government ministers.
In every election when it has stood, Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home has always placed an Anglo on its Knesset list, held regular events in English throughout the year, and not just around elections time, and is the only party which has an English-language fully-updated and detailed website to keep the Anglo voters informed almost since its inception.
We Anglos came home to Israel because we passionately believed in Israel, not as a means of escape but to actualize our Zionist identity and ideology.
We came not to take but to contribute.
We need a party which sees us as more than mere votes. A party which cares about keeping us informed, which has a permanent place for us and is active in the pursuit of the interests which drive and motivate us.
Israel is our home, and Yisrael Beytenu – Israel Our Home is the political home for English-speaking Israelis.