Hotovely to 'Post': Likud-led gov't will better serve Diaspora Jewry

Political Affairs: Diaspora affairs minister talks of the importance of Jewish identity

TZIPI HOTOVELY: People should also feel proud to be Jewish. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
TZIPI HOTOVELY: People should also feel proud to be Jewish.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Tzipi Hotovely made history last month, when she became Diaspora affairs minister.
Not only did she become the first-ever Orthodox woman to serve as a cabinet minister, she also gave the much-maligned ministry a boss devoted to nothing but the Diaspora.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post at her office at the capital’s Malha Technological Park, Hotovely revealed that she is seeking to remain in the post after the next government is formed.
That is not something to take for granted, because the Diaspora Affairs Ministry has been joined together with other ministries in recent years and has not been given a full-time minister.
Hotovely says Post readers around the world should see her appointment as a commitment by her Likud government to serve the Diaspora better. But in order to do that, she says, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud must be allowed to form the next government.
To that end, she reached out to Post readers in Israel who have the right to vote in the March 2 election, explaining how the Likud could win, form a government and put an end to the political stalemate.
Hotovely indicated that she has learned a lot since angering Diaspora Jews with her November 2017 comment complaining about them “never sending their children to fight for their country.” She had plenty to say about how Israel and Diaspora Jews can understand each other better.
Netanyahu has been saying Gantz can’t form a government without the Joint List. How can the Likud?
We have maps of all of the cities where our people didn’t vote in Likud places in the periphery and the Center. There are 300,000, and we even know them by name. Netanyahu told me our mission is to get the Likud’s million voters to bring the 300,000. That’s more than three mandates [of voters] who didn’t come last time, out of frustration. There are 64-65 seats on the Right without Yisrael Beytenu, and we have to maximize them.
There is a massive gap between Right and Left. Most of the public thinks we’re correct and backs annexation. The Right has waited 52 years for this moment where we can get international backing for expressing sovereignty.
It’s also important not to waste votes on Otzma Yehudit. We cannot afford to even have a seat or two thrown in the trash.
How do you explain to Diaspora Jews why Netanyahu is campaigning so hard against the formation of a minority government with the Arab Joint List, without looking racist?
There is no connection between how we see the Arab sector and the Joint List. We do favor increasing funding for the Arab sector. The Joint List opposes Israel being a Jewish state. We don’t rule out Arabs in the government, but we do rule out MK Heba Yazbak, who thinks terrorist Samir Kuntar is a national hero.
To go to battle in Gaza, Benny Gantz would need permission from those who oppose Israel, who are anti-Zionists. Gantz has been selling a bluff, saying he can form a government with the Likud but without Bibi. He told the public he can form a liberal unity government, but rejected it when given the chance, because Netanyahu would initially head it.
Blue and White is a public relations party. Everyone knows there is no connection between the ideology of MKs Yoaz Hendel and Yael German and between MKs Zvi Hauser and Ofer Shelah. They are tricking the public. Gabi Ashkenazi is hiding his role in the serious Harpaz Affair, and the Likud is pushing for revealing all the tapes in the case. Lapid hid his relationship with [Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon] Mozes.
Are you not bothered in any way by your party leader being under three criminal indictments?
Clean governance is important to me. Netanyahu was indicted for an unprecedented crime of media bribery. There must be equality under the law. Yair Lapid advanced aggressively closing a paper in Israel, which would have been very undemocratic. Everyone who supported the bill to close down Israel Hayom got positive coverage in Yediot Aharonot. There were many articles portraying Lapid as the next prime minister. Where is the equality? It’s a scandal to indict Netanyahu for positive coverage. It’s undemocratic. It hurts the basic right of politicians to deal with the press.
Before we get to the English-speakers abroad that you are dealing with as Diaspora affairs minister, what would the Likud do to help English-speakers here?
Our government has initiated professional workshops and helped with recognizing professional documents to allow doctors and dentists to work here. There was no reason for them to go through such bureaucracy. We are always trying to improve our immigrant absorption. We have had an Anglo campaign, which emphasized that those who come from countries with a two-party system need to understand that the way to power goes through the largest party.
What is your primary focus and goal in the ministry?
The most important programs regarding the Diaspora in recent years have been Birthright and Masa. I very much appreciate and value these projects.
The values that are missing, in my opinion, which we are emphasizing today, are to build a program that connects between Israel and Jewish identity and the Jewish story. This is the innovation we want to undertake.
Olami attracts students who come from a totally non-Orthodox background and far from Judaism and offers textual studies programs for Bible and Talmud to learn what it means to be Jewish.
One of the goals I have is boosting Jewish identity, and the final objective is preventing assimilation. It is important in my eyes that Jews preserve the Jewish family unit with Jewish partners, and you cannot achieve this without education towards Jewish identity.
One of the holiest things in Judaism is the Jewish family. You cannot marry a Jew if you are not connected to the bigger Jewish story and do not want to be part of this chain. You need to choose to marry a Jew.
People should also feel proud to be Jewish. Jews are very attracted to tikkun olam and human rights, in the truest way, not just in the American sense. This is part of our religion and our heritage. The ethos of the exodus from Egypt, human freedom, redemption from slavery – this is all very Jewish.
Human rights discourse is something Jewish. People should know their sources, and be more connected to this issue.
One issue pertaining to the Diaspora which has risen of late is that of the Law of Return. In January, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said the Law of Return should be changed because of the high percentage of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who in recent years are not Jewish according to Jewish law but are still eligible for Israeli citizenship.
The Law of Return will not soon be changed. It is one of the most important laws of the Jewish people, and if changes were to be made, it would have to be in cooperation with world Jewry.
It is really a foundational law, which establishes the idea that the state is a home to all Jews as they are, and for their relatives.
These people are part of the fabric of Israeli life. The Nativ army [conversion] program does very good work, and we need more people to enter conversion programs, because they have joined with us in our covenant of fate, they serve in the army, and we should provide for them a conversion path so that they can be part of the Jewish people.
We need to find how to make conversion programs more welcoming, and there are enough religious-Zionist rabbis who can do this. We need a conceptual change for how to relate to these people. And at its basis, people who already here and are partners who want to be part of the Jewish people should be allowed to do so.