Likud Knesset member Anat Berko has written books about terrorism, interviewed suicide bombers, taught in universities, lectured around the world and was given a seat in the parliament by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But if you ask the average Israeli, they know her best for one letter: P.
Berko received attention on February 10 when she suggested in a Knesset speech that there has been no Arab Palestinian state because Arabs have no letter P.
“Palestine” is a borrowed term, she said, sparking an uproar.
“Palestine – There isn’t even a ‘p’ in Arabic, so it’s a borrowed term that’s worth analyzing,” Berko said in a debate on the two-state solution. “But there is a Palestinian Authority next to us, and we don’t deny it.”
Several MKs from Meretz and the Joint List shouted at Berko, who repeated several times: “There is no such sound: pa-pa-pa! There is fa!” “The source of the name is clear,” she said, referring to the Romans, who called the area Palestina. In Arabic, Palestine is pronounced Falasteen.
The incident in the Knesset was highlighted on the nightly news and ridiculed on satire shows and social media. Commentators said that by her logic, there would be no Jewish people either, because there is no J in Hebrew.
In an interview ahead of the Jerusalem Post Conference, Berko said her words were taken out of an important context by an overly critical, politicized media. She said she is well aware of the Palestinian people’s existence, and wants to create a state for them alongside Israel.
“It was a historical overview of how the Romans tried to erase the memory of Judea by calling the area Palestina, and the Arabs adopted the same tactic,” she said. “There are those who made fun of me because it was trendy and to impress Internet talkbackers. But I am assertive, I have a good résumé, I am not a child, and I withstood it.”
Berko said the initially embarrassing incident ended up helping her out politically, because from then on, the grassroots in her party knew who she was.
“I got great free advertising,” she said. “Now more and more people want to speak to me. I have written books, I wrote about ISIS [Islamic State] before anyone, and no one can take that away from me. I stayed who I am.”
That connection to the Likud grassroots is critical for the staying power of Berko’s career. She was selected by Netanyahu ahead of the previous election for a slot on the Likud list reserved for a candidate of his choosing.
When the next election takes place, Berko will run for the first time against other reigning MKs for a slot selected by tens of thousands of party members. To that end, she has been going to political events, parlor meetings and holiday toasts hosted by party activists across the country.
“If Netanyahu hadn’t called me, I wouldn’t have come to politics,” she admitted. “But everything I do, I do my best. So yes, I want to run. I am hearing good things. The party activists appreciate what I do. I think they will vote for me, and I intend to win.”
But unlike some of her competition, Berko had a career before she entered politics, which she can resume. Berko served in the IDF for 25 years, ending her service with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. She directed ground forces in the Southern Command in the IDF’s women’s corps before it disbanded in 2001.
After she earned her doctorate in criminology, she used her skills to administer a jail. She has written books and articles and delivered lectures about the thought process and motivation of Palestinian terrorists. She was in the middle of writing a book about Islamic Jihad, which has not advanced during her busy time as an MK.
Berko, 55, had never been a Likud member but she voted for the party, whose leader she met when she interviewed Netanyahu in 2000 for her doctoral dissertation on the moral judgment of the dispatchers of suicide bombers compared to serial killers.
“I work around the clock so much, it feels like I am back in the army,” she said, describing a day during the Knesset’s extended Passover recess in which she crisscrossed the country at public and political events.
When the Knesset is in session, Berko does her best advance her pet issues: security and helping current and former IDF soldiers.
She passed into law a bill requiring the state to automatically recognize professional certificates granted by the IDF as civil licenses in various fields. She passed amendments defining what is terrorism rather than crime for courts, which will impact former inmates’ criminal records. And she has been involved in raising stipends for soldiers.
Berko is one of the heads of a caucus in the Knesset against boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel.
She represents Israel at international parliamentary events around the world, and speaks to more groups visiting the Knesset than any other MK.
“I have always given briefings,” she said. “Today I speak a lot more – but for free. I am losing money being an MK. But it is better that the groups hear from me than from someone who does not know what they are talking about.”
Unlike other politicians, Berko’s views did not change when she reached a certain political post. Although it is unpopular in her party, like Netanyahu she is in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state, though concerned that the timing is incorrect.
“I support a Palestinian state but I say we need a state beside us, not instead of us, and what worries me is that they want a state instead of us,” Berko said. “I am for two states but not like the Joint List thinks. One must be a Jewish state, and the other must be demilitarized and must not control its own borders. I am right-wing with a focus on security, and I don’t believe in trusting pieces of paper.”
Berko also backed Netanyahu’s effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran, supporting his controversial speech to a joint session of Congress against the Iranian nuclear deal. She remains close to the prime minister and meets him regularly.
Asked why terrorism has decreased recently, she credits Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the defense establishment and positive efforts among the Palestinians.
“Parents have called the police to report their children, which has also happened in the US and in London,” she said. “Sometimes young men carry out attacks to prove that they are macho or to get back at their parents for something. But families don’t want their children or their income to be harmed.”
Berko said the PA should also have an interest in stopping incitement on state-run media, because she believes it helps Hamas at the ruling Fatah party’s expense.
She supports the creation of a national unity government in order to decrease societal tension. Berko has called upon Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to join the coalition, as well as Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman.
When asked if she is glad she entered politics, she said she had mixed feelings. She is very happy about what she has accomplished but she knows there are challenges ahead.
“Politics is harder in some ways,” she said. “People in the army and universities are more focused on getting their work done than they are on drawing attention to themselves. In the IDF and academia, people are more polite, so I fit in there more than I do in politics.”To register for the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference: https://members.jpost.com/nyc2016.aspx