diaspora in the knesset

Israeli lawmakers establish Knesset caucus to hear Diaspora Jews’ voices

Coalition MK Dan Illouz tells JI that Diaspora Jewry’s fears about certain policies of the new Israeli government are based ‘more on perception than on fact.’

Danny Shem Tov, Knesset spokesperson unit

Member of Knesset Dan Illouz

A new Knesset caucus aimed at improving ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry will soon begin operating, allowing Jews from communities worldwide a platform to air their views in the Jewish state’s corridors of power and, say those behind it, help allay concerns over some of the current Israeli government’s political moves.  

“At the end of the day, Israel is a democracy and so the citizens of the State of Israel are the ones making the decisions, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t listen to our brothers all around the world,” Member of Knesset Dan Illouz, a first-time parliamentarian who made aliyah from Montreal in 2009, told Jewish Insider in an interview.  

Illouz, who was elected to serve in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Likud party in a spot specially reserved for new immigrants, established the caucus with coalition partner Ohad Tal from the far-right Religious Zionism party.

Illouz told JI that the forum, which has no formal legislative powers, will likely begin operating in the next few weeks and that it plans to cover a broad range of topics, including some of the controversial issues currently being debated in the Knesset. The caucus’ hybrid structure will allow members of the Diaspora to join either in person or via Zoom.

“We felt that there wasn’t a place in the Knesset where Jewish communities around the world could feel that their voices are being heard, including on issues that affect them,” he explained.

“That does not mean that we will always agree with the perspective that the Jewish communities put forward,” Illouz added, “but I do think that it’s very important for them to understand that there’s a place for their voice to be heard.”

He said that while the main idea of the caucus was to be “a platform where discussions can happen, and where Jews from all around the world will be able to join in… I also hope that we will not only discuss points of disagreement but also the many, many points of agreement that we have.”

“I think that there’s a large agreement in the Jewish world that the State of Israel is a common project that we can be very proud of,” added Illouz, who previously served as the COO of external relations at JGive and managed activities of the Zionist Organization of America in Israel.

He said he hoped the forum would also be used to discuss consensus challenges facing world Jewry such as the rise in antisemitism or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Asked about criticisms by some Diaspora Jewish groups of the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary, which some believe could weaken the country’s democratic nature and leave minority communities vulnerable, Illouz said that a lot of Diaspora Jewry’s fears are based “more on perception than on fact.”

“Even after a discussion, they might not agree with all the positions the government is taking, but at least they will not be afraid of steps the government is taking,” Ilouz, who was previously an advisor to Justice Minister Yariv Levin and also worked for Kohelet Policy Forum, the architect of the current judicial reforms, told JI. “I don’t think they’ll agree with all positions of the government – that’s not my expectation or my goal – but I do think that at least they won’t be so afraid of some of the steps that we’re taking.”

Illouz told JI that he supports the controversial judicial reforms being pushed through by Netanyahu’s coalition and does not believe that the proposals threaten Israeli democracy.

“But putting my personal opinion aside, even if people don’t agree with me, I do think that if there is a discussion about it, they’ll be able to see that my intention as a member of the coalition is not to hurt democracy and they will be able to understand that the steps we’re taking aren’t as dramatic as people tend to think,” he said.

On reports that some U.S. Jewish groups had called to shun Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during his recent visit to the U.S. and the less than warm welcome, Illouz said he felt that “boycotting members of the Israeli government is something that is unacceptable.”

“I also think, once again, that it’s based on a lot of misunderstanding,” he continued. “Bezalel has said things that he regrets, and he said himself that he regretted saying them because they were misunderstood and he shouldn’t have said them, but the fact is that he took those things back.”

“We are one people from different countries with a common destiny,” Illouz concluded. “The State of Israel is the home of all Jewish people, and it is important that Diaspora Jews stay connected to Israel at all times. I have set the goal of strengthening this crucial bond, and I hope to see us move forward together as a united Jewish nation of Jews from all over the world.”

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