Unofficial 'foreign minister' of Knesset

Globe-trotting MK Einat Wilf only 7 months in Knesset.

Labor MK Einat Wilf (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor MK Einat Wilf
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor MK Einat Wilf has only been in the Knesset for seven months, yet she has already been sent by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to Jordan, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, and she has also lectured coast to coast in the United States.
Rivlin has made a point of not going abroad himself to protest reports that criticized him for taking his wife overseas in his first term as speaker. So he has instead sent the Harvard- and Cambridge-educated Wilf, who was born in Tel Aviv but speaks English at mothertongue level, along with French and German.
“Wilf is a tremendous asset for the Knesset,” Rivlin said. “She became a primary emissary of the Knesset, and she is doing incredible work.
“I like that she makes a point of not focusing on her own views as much as explaining Israel’s democratic system and all the different approaches. If the Knesset had its own foreign minister, she would be my candidate, along with [Kadima MKs] Majallie Whbee, Nachman Shai and [Harvard-educated Yohanan] Plesner.”
Rivlin said Wilf has filled a role that in past Knessets was occupied by Labor’s Colette Avital, a former diplomat who speaks seven languages, and by Likud’s Michael Eitan, who has become a minister.
Wilf and Whbee spoke in Geneva on Tuesday at an international convention of parliamentary speakers that was also addressed by Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani. Wilf said from Geneva that Larijani used his speech to blame the “Zionists” and Americans for all the world’s problems going back to the Vietnam War.
“He praised the glorious victory of the valiant warriors of Hizbullah over the weak Zionist regime and expressed hope of more to come,” Wilf said. “But for most of the speech, he complained about the sanctions on Iran, which appear to be touching his country in a way that hurts.”
Wilf spoke on a panel immediately after Larijani boasted about democracy and women’s rights in his country.
“A country where elections are rigged, the parliament candidates are pre-selected and opposition is silenced through torture and murder does not help neither the cause of democracy nor the cause of women,” Wilf said. “I mentioned that this reminded me of the great days of the good old cold war when whenever countries had the words ‘people’s,’ ‘democracy’ or ‘republic’ in their names, it was a clear indication that they were none of the above.”
Wilf’s first trip abroad on the Knesset’s behalf was to the Euro- Med conference in Amman, in which she helped convince its women’s committee that Palestinian women are not suffering compared to their counterparts in countries that have the most violence against women, genital mutilation and illiteracy.
“Persuading the European delegates showed me that we don’t have to be in defensive mode,” Wilf said. “On women’s rights, gay rights and freedom, we are able to change the debate, break our isolation and create new alliances.”
Since then, Wilf went along with Shai to the European Parliament in Brussels immediately after May 31’s flotilla incident, and she used her German as part of the first delegation in a decade to the Bundestag in Berlin.
When groups come to the Knesset, Rivlin also asks Wilf to address them, including a recent large delegation led by Italian Chamber of Deputies President Gianfranco Fini.
Wilf said she has paid a price by missing so much time at the Knesset. But when she is abroad on official Knesset business, she is not considered a truant even if she misses key votes in the plenum.
“I am doing what I can to serve the foreign relations of the Knesset,” Wilf said. “It has certainly been challenging, but it’s a challenge I gladly accept.
“Israel’s intellectual defense in international forums is super-critical.
"If we think Israel’s image in the world needs person-to-person contact and relationship building, we need to back it up with the proper kind of support,” she said.