At this point last year, most Israelis had not heard of Tzipi Hotovely. But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu whisked her away from her life as a student and panelist on a weekly talk show and helped her get elected high on the Likud list. Now she is arguably the party's top ideological voice, constantly warning Netanyahu that he must stick to the party's platform and to his own ideals, despite international pressure. Kadima MKs even heckled Netanyahu that he was "more afraid of Hotovely than Obama." If Netanyahu does end up making concessions to US President Barack Obama, chances are Hotovely will be one of the top voices of 5770.
For a 30-year-old, MK Hotovely carries a heavy burden. When she watches television and sees something that bothers her, she can't just shout at the TV and sigh like her contemporaries. She feels she has to do something about it, and as the youngest member of the Knesset, she is in a position to do that.
"I want to solve everyone's problems," Hotovely confessed in an interview in the Knesset cafeteria. "I can't help but feel concerned, as if the problems of the Middle East were all on my shoulders."
Hotovely said that new MKs of all ages have to learn the art of politics from more experienced legislators, but that she came to the Knesset with a different perspective than her older colleagues.
"When you get to politics when you are young, your ideology is more pure," Hotovely said. "You're more optimistic, open-minded and decisive. You have a feeling that you can really change the world. But after a term, you realize it's not so easy."
Hotovely has been one of the leaders of the camp in Likud opposing Netanyahu making any territorial compromises. She has convened the settler leadership to plan strategy and even hosted an ideological forum on alternatives to the creation of a Palestinian state in solving the Middle East conflict.
As the chairwoman of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women, Hotovely has championed women's rights, and she has represented her religious-Zionist constituency by opposing parts of Netanyahu's land reform. But she has not gone out of her way to represent young people in the Knesset.
"I don't see myself as a leader of young people," Hotovely said. "But I hope the fact that I got elected should inspire young people to have faith in the political system and be less apathetic."
Hotovely got her start through a weekly political television show called Moetzet Hahachamim (Council of Sages), which pitted her against top veteran journalists. She was the only woman, only right-winger and only religious panelist, yet held her own against a cadre of left-wing, aging secular men.
Netanyahu watched Hotovely represent the Right on the show. He invited her to meet with him a few times, and in their most fateful meeting, he surprised her by asking her to run in the party's primary. Hotovely ended up beating former MKs and well-known candidates to the 18th slot on the list.
She was born in Rehovot to parents of Georgian descent. After attending top religious-Zionist schools, she was sent to the other Georgia as an emissary for the Bnei Akiva youth movement in Atlanta. She taught at the Orthodox Hebrew Academy of Atlanta and at Reform and Conservative Sunday schools, traveled across the country and learned a lot about American Jewish life.
After graduating with honors from Bar-Ilan University's law school, Hotovely interned at a top Tel Aviv law firm, returned to edit Bar-Ilan's law review and started studying for a doctorate at Tel Aviv University when politics intervened.
"It wasn't easy to enter politics at this age, but apparently that's what God wanted from me," she said.