Immigrants must have representatives in the Knesset - opinion

Having personally experienced the challenges of aliyah, I am intimately aware of the need for reform of the aliyah process and for the recognition of olim for the value they bring.

NEW IMMIGRANTS from North America arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport in 2019. (photo credit: FLASH90)
NEW IMMIGRANTS from North America arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport in 2019.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Shortly after entering Knesset, I was moved by the marking of “Aliyah Day,” engaging in discussion in the Immigration, Integration and Diaspora Affairs Committee. Members of Knesset stressed the importance of aliyah (immigration) supporting Diaspora Jewry on their journey to Israel, and the role of the State of Israel in this effort. It took the olim (immigrants) around the table to raise the imperative of taking responsibility, identifying and removing bureaucratic hurdles that prevent the integration of olim, resulting in some not coming at all and others leaving after just a few years.
As we approach the upcoming elections and in the shadow of COVID-19, the Jewish Agency has reported a nearly 100% increase in interest in making aliyah from most regions in the world, with a prospective 250,000 new immigrants moving to Israel in the next three years. These figures of historic magnitude harbor the potential of infusing Israel with a population that can become the growth engine so desperately needed in the midst of the immense current health, societal and economic crises. Yet, very little attention is dedicated to creating the long-term holistic plans necessary to realize this potential and ensure successful integration.
Having personally experienced the challenges of aliyah, I am intimately aware of the need for reform of the aliyah process and for the recognition of olim for the value they bring. Upon entering the Knesset and believing in “being the change we want to see,” I hired two of the few olim in Knesset as staffers, insisting we remain “Canadian” in our conduct. Our office runs similar to that in a representative democracy, where I am directly accessible to my constituents – all Israelis, alongside the immigrant community. Throughout the challenges of COVID-19, I received and responded to hundreds of emails from olim, desperate to have their families enter the country, whether for births, because they were lone soldiers, in national service, or in order to tend to a family member who was ill and in need. Hearing these voices and recognizing the inherent inequality, I was able to affect change, adding new criteria for these visits, without compromising public health.
The same is true for other issues I raised and addressed in this 23rd Knesset, for example, the challenges faced by olim with medical professional degrees that do not exist in Israel and thus are not recognized. Rather than creating the necessary evaluation mechanism, recognizing their potential contribution to society at large, the current policy belittles them, paying them less and placing them in more junior positions. Adamant to identify the sources of these and other challenges rather than treat the symptoms, I proposed reform that will not only benefit olim, but the entire Israeli public. To the same ends, I proposed necessary legislation to eliminate double national insurance payments paid by those living in Israel but working abroad – an issue currently affecting many with significant financial implications, creating a disincentive for new olim and returning Israelis.
A webinar attended by hundreds and watched by thousands, featuring myself and former Anglo MKs Michael Oren, Dov Lipman and Yehudah Glick underscored the significance of Anglo representation in the Knesset. In response to my sharing the empowering experience of engagement with my many constituents, whether online or in person, fellow panelists shared similar reflections, reinforcing the value and imperative for Anglo representation, transcending real or perceived political divide.
Moreover, having chosen to make aliyah from experienced democracies, equipped with tools and understanding of good governance, separation of powers, Jewish and democratic identities, and more, immigrant representation in Knesset is imperative for the benefit of all. After 72 years, it is time we apply our skills, insights and knowledge, uniting around issues that ail and challenge Israel. Immigrants have the ability and responsibility to contribute to all sectors of society, including the public and political arenas, launching reforms and processes necessary to secure and propel Israel forward.
As such, as we head to elections once again, olim must recognize their value and demand representation, “learning in” and sounding missing voices around the decision-making tables. The estimated 250,000 Anglo olim are an electoral force to be reckoned with, worth approximately seven mandates. Cementing that Anglo vote for representation and not ideology, any party leader interested in harnessing this support must recognize that it is insufficient to simply add English subtitles to a campaign video, or speak to the issues theoretically. In order to truly maximize our potential contribution to the State of Israel, olim must have representatives in Knesset.
The writer is a member of Israel’s 23rd Knesset. She serves as chair of the Subcommittee on Israel-Diaspora Relations and as a member of the Immigration, Integration and Diaspora Affairs Committee.