The chairwoman of the Knesset Subcommittee for Israeli Relations with World
Jewish Communities, Einat Wilf (Independence), is embracing new technologies in
an attempt to bring the Jewish world closer.
Wilf believes there is a
need for a new type of contract between Israel and Jewish people that recognizes
globalization and uses technology to connect Jews around the world, and has
called a meeting of her subcommittee on the issue.
“It became clear to me
that if I want to have a connection with the Jewish world, I must take advantage
of the opportunities technology brings,” Wilf explained.
As such, the MK
is leading by example, using online tools to allow people abroad to participate
in discussions at the Knesset.
During the Knesset’s winter session, she
hosted the first committee meeting using so-called webinar technology, in which
people from New York, Paris, Munich and other cities watched the meeting on
computer screens, sending in questions and comments via computer or
Wilf has also sought to include leaders of Jewish organizations
and researchers in discussions on topics relevant to the
For example, she “brought” Jewish demographer Steve M.
Cohen to a meeting at the Knesset without flying him to Israel. Instead, Cohen
testified and took questions from the subcommittee via Skype while he was in the
While the Knesset has arranged video conferences in the past, the use
of Skype requires no special equipment, utilizes the building’s existing
Internet infrastructure and costs nothing.
There had been some resistance
from Knesset workers when Wilf suggested such video conferencing, she
“[The staff] acted like it would cost thousands of dollars to order
equipment and technicians, but my spokesman and I pointed out that there is
wi-fi in the Knesset, and Skype is free,” she recounted. “The reaction surprised
me because it is not so hi-tech. It was so simple.”
The MK has also used
technology to participate in meetings abroad, giving a virtual lecture to Prof.
Arthur Brenner’s Jewish studies class at the University of Albany in New York in
Brenner said the lecture was a great success and has encouraged
other professors in the field to follow suit, explaining that they can have an
MK lecture and answer questions free of charge.
“Responses from abroad
have been overwhelmingly positive,” Wilf said, adding that foreign journalists
have covered her meetings by watching them online.
Wilf has also found
Skype to be a useful diplomatic tool, helping her meet members of other
parliaments while the Knesset is in session and she tries not to leave the
For example, she initially spoke to Northern Ireland MP David
Mcilveen over Skype, but has since met him in person several times in Israel.
She met with him in the UK last month.
However, she added that MPs from
abroad “still act like it’s strange to make a Skype appointment.”
many cases it’s easier to wait until I can fly to see someone and make a live
appointment than to convince him to put ‘Skype appointment’ in [his] calendar,”