Rolling forward

Israel’s former deputy foreign minister named as World Economic Forum’s young leader

‘Every opportunity is an opportunity to change minds and change perceptions about Israel,’ MK Idan Roll, who is now in the opposition, told Jewish Insider


Idan Roll

Israeli Knesset Member Idan Roll has been named as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023. A former deputy foreign minister who served in the previous government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, Roll said he would use the appointment to the prestigious program to push forward projects, especially in the tech world, that will enhance Israel’s diplomacy and create new diplomatic opportunities for the Jewish state.

“I have all sorts of plans for the program,” Roll, 38, told Jewish Insider in an interview. “I have my orientation later this month. It takes time to get to know the system, but like many other programs it is up to the individual to make something meaningful out of this opportunity.”

“Just by having access to so many leading people in prominent fields, I don’t see how you can’t make something meaningful out of this opportunity,” he added. “Looking at the list of other participants and of alumni there is a lot of potential and I will get to reach out to people from countries that I would not usually get to meet.”

Roll is the only Israeli out of the 100 young political leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers and activists selected for the program. Announced earlier this month, the Young Global Leaders Class of 2023 will serve for a three-year term and be given access to a range of executive education courses, learning journeys and opportunities to collaborate with their peers, helping them to make an even more significant impact on society.

Established in 2004, the forum has trained a diverse community of outstanding individuals addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems. Some 1,400 members and alumni from more than 120 countries are connected to the program. Previous Israeli participants include former Knesset Member Gdeer Mreeh, who serves as the Jewish Agency for Israel shaliach, or envoy, in Washington and former Knesset Member Stav Shaffir.

“The World Economic Forum is honored to welcome the latest group of Young Global Leaders, whose exceptional achievements and commitment to improving the world come at a time when cooperation, partnerships and responsible leadership are more critical than ever,” Nicole Schwab, a board member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, said in the announcement.

“Because I am so keen on international affairs and dedicated to cultivating new ties for Israel, I really believe that this could be a platform that could help start something new and innovative that could develop nicely in the future,” Roll told JI.

“When I was deputy foreign minister, I always said that relationships between countries were like people and that they needed to be worked on and cultivated,” he continued. “First you cultivate ties between countries and then you can work on the people-to-people relationships, although sometimes it is the other way around, like with the Abraham Accords, which started well before there was any formal diplomacy.”

During his tenure as deputy foreign minister, Roll championed Israel’s tech sector and pushed to use the country’s booming innovation to deepen its diplomacy. Now, as a young global leader, he said he has hopes of promoting a “regional tech ecosystem, which is something that all countries in the Abraham Accords, as well as Morocco, are passionate about.”

“I can use this opportunity to create platforms for people-to-people ties in the tech world,” Roll explained. “It was something that I worked towards during my entire term, but it’s not complete yet because these things take time.”

Also during his time in the previous government, Roll, a former model, worked to showcase more liberal elements of the Jewish state. Roll, who is openly gay, is married to one of the country’s biggest pop stars and TV personalities, Harel Skaat, and together they are the parents of two young children born via surrogate in the United States.

In an interview with JI in November 2021, Roll said that his goal as deputy foreign minister was to promote Israel’s liberal values and to build relations with young leaders around the world. This goal remains, he said, even though he is now in the opposition and even as building such relations appears to be less of a priority for Israel’s current government, which is made up of mostly conservative and religious political parties.  

“People do not know what Israelis are really like and there are never enough opportunities to discuss the country on this level,” Roll said. “Every opportunity is an opportunity to change minds and change perceptions about Israel.”

“Israel is such a high-profile country and all over the world there is mainly negative coverage, it is even more imperative that we have prominent liberal voices, roaming the globe, meeting with people and showcasing that there are strong patriotic and liberal and democratic people who are fighting to preserve Israel as a democratic and Jewish state,” he concluded.

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