After a month of contentious and tense Arrangements Committee meetings, the Knesset has finally formed the official Knesset committees. There is much to be said about the process through which these committees were formed, the makeup of the MKs in these committees and what the voting process in the Knesset plenum was like. Needless to say, like much of the goings-on in the current Knesset, it was not a simple or black and white affair. And while I can write a great deal about it all, for now I’ll be focusing on one particular issue that I’m sure, will not get as much attention as it should.
Within most of the various Knesset committees, the coalition has a clear majority. To offset this and give the opposition representation, there are three committees within which the coalition gave the opposition a majority – essentially giving them control of those committees. One of them is the Committee for Aliyah, Integration and Diaspora Affairs. While the chair of this committee is coalition MK Yair Golan of Meretz, it has 8 opposition members while the coalition has just 5.
Upon his being sworn in, Naftali Bennett became the first Prime Minister who is the son of Anglo-America Olim. PM Bennett has also previously served as Diaspora Minister. He spent years living in America. During his campaign, he made it clear that he understands and wants to be able to represent the needs of the Olim and Anglo communities. That he takes our issues seriously and knows that there is much work to be done there. There are other members of the coalition to whom Diaspora and Aliyah affairs are of importance as well such as new MK YomTov Kalfon of Yamina — a French Ole, MK Sharren Haskel of New Hope — born in Canada, and many others from various backgrounds. Why then, would this coalition in particular, give away control of the committee that specifically handles some of the issues closest to the Olim community’s hearts? Members of the government across the board — from Yamina to Labor and beyond — have expressed a great need for improvement in Diaspora Jewry relations. Many have expressed sympathy with the plight of Olim who have not seen their families in 2 years due to Covid restrictions. Why would they give away their parliamentary avenue for addressing these problems?
This issue becomes even worse when we consider the fact that the opposition has made it clear that they will do everything in their power to work against this government – even if it means voting down laws that they support, even if it means not participating in discussions at all. Adding fuel to the fire is the committee chair himself, MK Yair Golan. I confess, I don’t know everything about Golan’s voting record or special interests. But to the best of my knowledge, he has never been particularly involved in Aliyah or Diaspora-related issues. Given the fierceness of the opposition and the fact that they have a majority, it may have been prudent to appoint a committee chair who is a passionate fighter for the cause as opposed to just a random coalition member.
This decision is at best confusing and at worst deeply upsetting for many of us, especially in the Anglo community where there has been a real call for greater representation and consideration for their needs. The impression it leaves is that the government did not in fact place much importance on these issues and saw no great threat in giving away control of the committee, or they felt it was a much lower priority for them. Either way, it is not encouraging to those of us who do place great importance on meeting the needs of a community who left behind full lives in their country of origin to be a part of the Jewish Homeland.
I have one hope left. I believe that there are MKs in the opposition, just as in the coalition, who feel strong ties with Olim and Diaspora Jewry. I believe that there are those in Knesset who want to make Aliyah easier and improve relations with our brothers around the world. I implore these MKs to take advantage of their position in this committee. Rather than just working against the coalition, work towards meeting the needs and goals of a vastly under-represented group. Hell, it may even take the coalition by surprise. It’s a win-win situation for us.
And if all that fails, maybe this should be the point around which we Olim can finally rally. Maybe it is no longer good enough for us to sit aside and let others dictate how our problems are addressed and handled. We keep calling for better representation — we shouldn’t wait for an invitation. We cannot allow ourselves to continue to be left out and brushed aside. No one else will handle our issues, we can’t rely on those on the inside to do it for us. No one understands our needs better than we do. It’s time to demand that we be allowed a seat at the table.