Colleyville sounds the siren for the Knesset on danger of antisemitism - opinion

This is a call to action for all who cherish democracy and recognize that antisemitism does not only threaten Jews or Israel, but the societies in which it is permitted to mutate and permeate.

 ALIYAH AND INTEGRATION Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata speaks at a meeting in the Knesset with the Jewish People’s Lobby in November. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
ALIYAH AND INTEGRATION Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata speaks at a meeting in the Knesset with the Jewish People’s Lobby in November.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The hair-raising events in the sleepy town of Colleyville, Texas, eerily livestreamed for their initial moments, are far from over. They constitute yet another manifestation of the mainstreaming of the oldest mutating hatred in human history, which Jews are commanded to remember in canonic texts written thousands of years ago, lest we become complacent and fail to recognize them at times of relative safety.

They are a call to action for all who cherish democratic principles, to take note of disturbing statistics that expose a harrowing reality though Jews – who comprise just 2% of the US population and 0.2% of the world’s – are the number one target of anti-religious hate crimes in Western countries, including the US; that 40% of US Jews reportedly “change their behavior,” according to AJC reports; that ADL and Hillel research indicates that one in three Jewish students experienced antisemitism last year alone.

As an active member of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs in Israel’s 23rd Knesset, having initiated and held hearings with social media giants on the topic of online antisemitism, that among other things, led to the formation of an international bipartisan task force to combat online antisemitism, I can attest to the importance of Israel’s parliament weighing in on these issues. As chairwoman of the Subcommittee for Israel-Diaspora Relations, who brought the voices of students experiencing daily manifestations of those statistics into Knesset, I recognize how crucial it was for all who engaged, empowering both members of communities worldwide, and Israel’s elected leadership.

In its capacity as nation-state of Jews worldwide, discussions initiated and held in the committee on an array of topics, whether regarding COVID-19 challenges and concerns, or an emotional recount of the implications of the Abraham Accords on the Jewish community of Bahrain, exposed the potential of critical engagement, offering significant insights and experiences. In a parliamentary system where much of the work is done around committee tables, it provided a space to showcase, discuss and maximize collaboration between recognized top activists defending Israel around the world, to committee members, decision-makers and the general public.

It is a committee that has the ability and responsibility to initiate and hold discussions that inform decision-makers and enable them to understand and internalize global challenges, including the importance of the globally adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. It is a critical forum to engage with evolving reality, in which Israel’s very right to exist as a Jewish and democratic, ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, is called into question.

 Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where four hostages were held. (credit: JTA) Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where four hostages were held. (credit: JTA)

AS WE mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is a committee that can and must carry the parliamentary torch, recognizing that it is not enough to remember and remind; cognizant that “Never again” is a prospective statement, thus means nothing if it does not look to the future, while remembering and learning from the past. It is a committee that must serve as the constant, tracking the alarming increase in antisemitic incidents across the globe, in which going to synagogue is considered an act of courage and rabbis feel they must learn to protect their congregants, of which Colleyville is one more awful reminder.

In a 73-years-young country of olim (immigrants to Israel), by olim, for olim, this vital committee serves as an imperative bridge that ensures a smooth, holistic, consistent, transparent translation of reality into policy, and vice versa. It has the ability and responsibility to enable, facilitate and ameliorate conditions for past, current and future olim, identifying systemic hurdles and gathering forums that breed policy solutions to ameliorate integration and contribution, to new immigrants, to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people at large.

As in many other areas, COVID-19 exposed and magnified the importance and urgency for a systematic, data-driven discussion, that transcends political, religious, denominational and geographic differences, representing and anticipating the implications of policies on olim and global Jewry, ensuring they be factored ahead of time, in decision-making processes and results.

Two years into a global pandemic, at a volatile political constellation of change and instability, this committee is mandated to be that much-needed constant, enabling smooth transition and evolution. In a baton race of reality, it harbors the potential of providing the platform to identify and realize historic opportunities alongside the challenges of a global pandemic, creating win-win solutions for specific or general issues. These include professional and academic certification recognition at a time of deficient numbers of medical, paramedical, mental-health professionals or educators and the potential for incentivized taxation reforms. It can initiate and track implementation of systemic, long-term change, rather than reactive, emergency measures and Band-Aid solutions.

It is a committee that after long years of discussions, hearing and sounding the plea of thousands desperately waiting in Ethiopia to reunite with family, can and must follow up on the implementation of past, current and future government decisions, exacerbated by a global pandemic, civil unrest and outright war, fulfilling its very raison d’être.

EVENTS IN Texas are a call to action for all who cherish democracy and recognize that antisemitism does not only threaten Jews or Israel, but the societies in which it is permitted to mutate and permeate. They are also a call to action for the State of Israel, on multiple levels. For Israel’s parliament, the fact that the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs has not been convened in the nine months of the 24th Knesset sounds an emergency siren that must be recognized and remedied.

Like the imperative to unite in order to address antisemitism, it must not be taken hostage by political or personal considerations, lest it undermine the entire infrastructure upon which Israel was founded. Beyond relevant, timely or emergency hearings that this committee holds, it is a critical ecosystem in which ministries, agencies, civic sector organizations and individuals engage and enhance collaboration, advancing shared values and goals. Realizing the vision, mission and values of the founding principles anchored in the Declaration of Independence, it is among the most important committees in Israel’s parliament and must be viewed, perceived and reflected as such.

Transcending real or perceived differences of politics, denomination or geography, this emergency siren should prompt the immediate convening of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. This will affirm the significance of its mandate, both internally to Israeli society, and externally, to our sisters and brothers and their communities and countries around the world.

At a time of uncertainty and instability, it will enable a critical vehicle to fulfill Israel’s responsibility, reaching across differences to secure continuity, and generating and enhancing new circuits of connectivity. More than ever, it will serve its purpose, holding decision-makers to account, bridging gaps and healing rifts; insisting and ensuring that key issues are considered as a critical part of the process, not reactively but proactively; embodying what it means to be a maturing nation-state of the Jewish people at a time of challenge and opportunity.

The writer is a public policy and strategy adviser, and candidate for chairperson of the Jewish Agency. She was a member of the 23rd Knesset.