The late Moshe Arens [Left] next to former MK Dov Lipman [Right] at the Bonei Zion ceremony at the Knesset in which Arens was given a lifetime achievement award. .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The first time I met Moshe Arens was soon after I began serving as a member of Knesset. I remember being overwhelmed that I was shaking hands with an icon, and wasn’t even sure what to say. And then he looked me in the eyes and said, “I am proud of you. Keep up the good work.”
Whether he was seriously proud of me or not, and whether he really thought I was doing “good work,” that generous praise from a man who was always an inspiration broke the ice. I felt comfortable talking to Mr. Arens about issues that were being raised in the Knesset, and asking him for advice. I could tell that he was taking me under his wing, in his role as “the father of Anglo-Israeli politicians.”
I give him that title that not simply because he was the one who demonstrated that it was possible to make Aliyah from the United States in one’s adult years and end up in public office, but also for the type of politician that he modeled for us all.
I use the term “end up in public office” very deliberately. Mr. Arens didn’t set out to become a politician. He moved to Israel when the State was founded and worked for the Irgun. He went back to the USA to study engineering, returned to Israel in his thirties with his wife, and began work as a professor at the Technion and then as deputy director general of Israel Aircraft Industries.
He only entered politics after the Yom Kippur War, when he was close to 50 years old, because he felt that Israel’s leadership had failed the country, and that his passion for Israel and its security could help steer the country in a better direction. He didn't enter politics because he wanted to be a politician, but because he could not sit on the sidelines while worried about the future of his country and his people.
And, thus, he set the framework for future Anglo members of Knesset and leaders in Israel. Success comes when one enters the fray because of a love for Israel and a desire to improve the country and not when it stems from a desire for the position itself.
Entering politics on those terms gave Mr. Arens the ability to always be true to his ideologies, even if it meant losing positions of power. In 1980, after serving as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for three years, Prime Minister Begin offered him to serve as Defense Minister. Mr. Arens turned it down because he disagreed with the terms of the peace treaty with Egypt. He was able to walk away from a position of that stature because he was in public office to help his state and he had no interest in a position where he would be working against what he believed was in the state’s best interests. When he felt comfortable with the government’s ideology and the policies which he would be enacting, he accepted the positions of Defense Minister in 1983, Foreign Minister in 1988 (with Benjamin Netanyahu as his deputy), and Defense Minister again in 1990.
Despite retiring from politics nearing 70-years old in 1992, he returned seven years later when he was concerned about the direction of his Likud party. He was so bothered by the situation that he challenged the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was his own protégé, for the leadership of the Likud. He lost that race and earned a seat as a Knesset member for the next few years but then retired for good when he concluded that he could not have significant influence on the issues that mattered to him.
In my conversations with Mr. Arens, he emphasized the need to serve Israel based on clear ideology, with complete integrity and professionalism, and with patriotism and passion for the success of our state and nation.
I want to personally thank Former Minister Arens for the inspiration and guidance which he provided for me. But all former and current Anglo olim in public office and those who will do so in the future owe him a debt of gratitude for paving the way for English-speaking olim to serve in public, elected office, and for serving as the model for doing so the right way. The author was elected to the Knesset in January 2013, making him the first American born MK in 30 years.
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