50 Influential Jews: Bridge to the Diaspora - No. 24

Nir Barkat, Amichai Chikli, and Ofir Sofer play a critical role in connecting Israel and world Jewry. Here is why.

 Aliyah and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer, Diaspora Affairs and Combatting Antisemitism Minister Amichai Chikli, and Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat (photo credit: Courtesy, Marc Israel Sellem/Jerusalem Post)
Aliyah and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer, Diaspora Affairs and Combatting Antisemitism Minister Amichai Chikli, and Economy and Industry Minister Nir Barkat
(photo credit: Courtesy, Marc Israel Sellem/Jerusalem Post)

Nir Barkat

Economy and Industry Minister 

Nir Barkat’s impact on Jerusalem and Israel is formidable. As the current Israeli economy and industry minister, Barkat has an influence that extends beyond his notable tenure as Jerusalem’s mayor (2008-2018). He actively champions the expansion of market competition within Israel’s economy. His dedication is reflected in his advocacy for import reforms, aimed at creating an environment conducive for many brands to establish a presence in the country. These initiatives would enhance economic vibrancy and promote innovation and consumer choice.

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Barkat, 64, is also a contender to take over from Benjamin Netanyahu as leader of the Likud. Barkat’s impactful journey encompasses a diverse range of roles. As a former mayor of Jerusalem, he prioritized modernization while preserving the city’s historical and religious significance. His innovative initiatives, such as fostering the city’s tech ecosystem, propelled Jerusalem onto the global business stage.

Alongside co-founding the BRM investment fund, he played a pivotal role in establishing the Snunit Center for the Advancement of Web-Based Learning, effectively integrating technology into the educational landscape. Through his involvement with IVN (Israel Venture Network), he demonstrated a commitment to nurturing social businesses, reflecting his multifaceted approach to driving positive change. Barkat’s numerous contributions underline his lasting influence on Israel’s economy, entrepreneurship, education, and societal transformation.

Amichai Chikli

Diaspora Affairs Minister

Amichai Chikli (Likud) stands out as a Diaspora Affairs Minister who has captured significant attention from global media and Jewish organizational leaders. While this attention has not always been favorable, the 41-year-old Chikli has made this list not due to these controversies but in spite of them.

Entering politics in 2021, Chikli was instrumental in the fall of the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government. Subsequently, he was appointed as the minister of Diaspora affairs and combating antisemitism, and also took on the role of social equality minister.

In a notable move in May, Chikli unveiled his legacy project aimed at creating a lasting impact on the Jewish world. During a Knesset session, he announced his ministry’s commitment of NIS 150 million to initiate a project to significantly increase the enrollment in Jewish day schools across North America. Named Aleph Bet, this initiative seeks to address the educational challenges in Jewish day schools, while motivating more Jewish families to consider such institutions for their children’s education. “The major educational crisis in North America’s Jewish sector, especially outside the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox realms, needs addressing,” stated Chikli. He emphasized that the Aleph Bet project is tailored for North American schools, emphasizing teacher training in Jewish education, Israel studies, and foundational principles for Jewish day schools.”

Against the backdrop of several criticisms aimed at members of the current US administration, Chikli has chosen a discreet stance on American matters to ensure the success of the Aleph Bet program. Nevertheless, he has not hesitated to critique ultra-Orthodox politicians for their disconnect with liberal Jews in the Diaspora, viewing this bridge as a crucial responsibility.

Ofir Sofer

Aliyah and Integration Minister

The Religious Zionist Party (RZP) is the political group that promoted judicial reform, as well as other issues concerning religion and state, from a conservative point of view. Interestingly, Ofir Sofer, currently the Aliyah and Integration minister, is a bit different from his party members. He is quiet, isn’t looking for headlines and hasn’t spoken harshly about these issues. He sees himself as a bridge; connecting between groups and sectors.

Sofer, 47, is married, has seven children and lives in Tefahot, a religious moshav in the North. He was critically wounded in 1996 during a battle at Joseph’s Tomb. He needed two years of rehabilitation and was affected mainly in his head and eye. He later returned to the army as a commander. 

One of the main changes expected in the Aliyah and Integration Ministry under Sofer’s leadership could have already been noticed in the coalition agreements between the parties. As published a month ago, the RZP demanded a NIS 350 million budget for the ministry, which would be dedicated to aliyah from the US and France, something that probably wasn’t ever the target of this ministry, at least in the past few decades. 

If Sofer succeeds at changing the paradigm, and bringing in more immigrants from Western countries, he will have made a big difference.