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FAREWELL TO the Knesset.(Photo by: REUTERS)
A fond look back and hopeful one ahead
By NACHMAN SHAI
04/24/2019
The time has come to say goodbye to the 20th Knesset.
The time has come to say goodbye to the 20th Knesset.

I must admit that I’m a little choked up as I write these words. I’ve spent the last 10 years in the magnificent Knesset building as a member of the 18th, 19th and 20th Knesset governments. Ten years is a very long time, and I’m very proud of the great work we’ve accomplished. Granted, I was hoping to continue with these endeavors for a few more years, but apparently, it wasn’t meant to be. Nonetheless, I feel great pride that I devoted so much energy and time carrying out meaningful public service in the Knesset as a representative of the Israeli people.

Being a member of Knesset of the State of Israel was – and remains – a great honor that requires a true commitment and sense of responsibility. I often gaze at the pictures hanging on my wall of my extended family members who have now passed on. One is a photograph of my Aunt Nechama, after whom I was named. She, along with many other relatives, perished in the Holocaust among the six million Jews who died. I spoke of her once at a parliamentary friendship meeting I participated in at the German Bundestag. I wondered aloud with my colleagues how she would have reacted after hearing her sister Hava’s son recalling her memory during a meeting with German parliamentarians.

Ten years ago, my parents, Hava and Eliezer, z”l, accompanied me as I was sworn in as a member of Israel’s 18th Knesset. Since that day, they have both passed on. I felt then and still feel now that I was fulfilling their dream as Israeli citizens: to see their son represent them and the entire Israeli public as a member of Israel’s Knesset.

These years have been full of intensive and continuous activity that unfortunately had to be carried out from the ranks of the opposition. Alongside the criticism of government decisions and endless votes against bill proposals, as is expected from opposition MKs, there was also plenty of positive thinking and constructive efforts to make a difference and improve Israeli society by making our country a safer, more just place to live.

My party – Labor – failed miserably in the recent election. Only six of our leaders will represent our party in the 21st Knesset. It is my intention, however, to remain active in my efforts to get our party back in the game. Without sounding too dramatic, I believe that Labor is an extremely ideological party with deep roots, noble values, and a true vision. Low periods are almost always followed by the attaining of new heights and peaks, and I am excited to be a part of these efforts.

Now that my journey as a member of Knesset has come to an end, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you. Throughout the years, I have traveled to every corner of Israel and met thousands – maybe even tens of thousands – of citizens. So many people have encouraged me and supported me throughout this incredible journey. With their support and for their sake I found myself with the means to help others and bring forth change. I have been so fortunate in all my endeavors and I will be eternally grateful to everyone who supported me as their representative in the Israeli Knesset.

I MAY BE ending my official service in the Israeli Knesset, but I commit to keeping the relationships I have formed with so many of you as strong as ever. I represented the Jewish world and US-Jewish interests as the head of the Lobby for Strengthening the Jewish People, alongside the Jewish Agency, as well as in the Knesset lobby for US-Israel relations alongside the Ruderman Family Foundation. I have done my best to improve relations between the American Jewish community and Israel during these difficult and troubling times.

Unfortunately, the subject of Diaspora relations appears extremely low on the 2019 national agenda. According to surveys that I viewed, only 2%-3% of the Israeli public has shown any genuine interest in Jewish communities in the Diaspora, or understands the importance of our connection. In some cases, this is due to ignorance, whereas with others, pure arrogance. After all, we’ve created an entire country, what have they done that is so special? This is, however, an inaccurate, superficial and even irresponsible viewpoint. I believe that understanding this notion is key to the existence of the State of Israel, and I have done my utmost throughout the years to share these ideas with my fellow members of Knesset. 

I cannot even begin to imagine what Israel would look like today had it not received such staunch support from Diaspora Jewry – especially from the American Jewish community – since well before Israel was declared an independent state. It is true that the world has changed greatly since then, but the people of the oldest nation on the planet must understand that stability and support are still the backbone of our country.

The new Israel, which will emerge following the recent election, is farther to the Right, and much more nationalist and religious. We must open its eyes so that it can truly see the Jewish communities around the world. We must take steps to prevent the State of Israel’s basic democratic values from being eroded. It would be catastrophic to ignore the changes taking place in Jewish communities around the world, especially in the US.

As everyone hustles to gain power in the political arena, it would be extremely dangerous for Israel to alienate the Diaspora Jewish communities even more. Our government should instead be going to great efforts to rehabilitate these relationships. The ball is now in our court. We must say to our brethren across the seas: You’ve done so much to help us over the years – now it’s our turn to help you create educational and cultural institutions where you’ll learn Hebrew, gain an affinity for the Land of Israel, and want to be a true partner in tikkun olam, repairing the world.

I may not lead Israeli legislators on a tour of the American Jewish community and other Jewish communities around the world as a member of the upcoming Knesset – the lobbies will continue their vital work without me – but I will continue to implement this new and vital paradigm for future generations from wherever I may be.

The writer has served as a Labor Party MK in the 18th, 19th and 20th Knessets.
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