The goal of this trip was to get a sense of Israeli society from many different perspectives – social, cultural, religious, etc. On Monday, we got the political perspective.
Israel has a parliamentary democracy, and the legislative branch (the parliament) is called the Knesset. There are 120 seats in the parliament, and because it’s a multiparty system, parties often join together to form coalitions.
Knesset Member Merav Ben Ari came to visit us at our hotel in Tel Aviv. Ari is in the Kulanu party, which is part of the Coalition. Like most other Israelis, she served in the Israeli Defense Force (Serving in the IDF is mandatory after high school). She then got a law degree, and later got her start in politics with local Tel Aviv politic
She’s also kind of a big deal because she is raising her daughter with a gay man, an unconventional route for a politician not only in Israel, but I think everywhere.
Ari told us that there a few major issues she is particularly invested in: the housing crisis in Israel, trying to narrow the gap between the rich and poor, and education.
We asked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and while Ari acknowledged that there is a “big issue with coexistence,” for her, domestic issues are of upmost importance. It’s “our time,” Ari said.
After her visit, I visited the Knesset in Jerusalem, where I got to see Israeli politics in action. MK (Knesset Member) Ksenia Svetlova invited me to a discussion with the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee. They were discussing the fate of the 500 immigrant senior citizens living in the Diplomat Hotel, a potential site for the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
It was a heated discussion, there were committee members present, along with residents of the Diplomat. Most of the residents are immigrants from Russia who have living in the Diplomat for almost 20-30 years. MK Svetlova herself immigrated to Israel in 1991 (age 14) with her mother and grandmother. The Diplomat was her first home, so she has a special investment in this case.
Interestingly, the residents were mostly Russian-speakers so they needed translation for the Hebrew discussion. I was in the same boat – I couldn’t understand either language. But it really stuck out to me, the fact that these senior citizens were unable to understand the discussion about an issue directly involving them.
I interviewed MK Svetlova for my news story about the embassy moving, and then went off to Ir Amim, an organization working for an “equitable and stable Jerusalem.” I wanted to speak with someone at Ir Amim because as a group, they have been very vocal about the embassy moving.
In a 2017 policy paper, they write:
“Ir Amim yearns for the day in which the American flag flies over two embassies in Jerusalem – the American embassy to Israel in West Jerusalem and the American embassy to Palestine in East Jerusalem.”
This was really a ‘home-run’ day for my story because I got the chance to talk to many different sources. After Ir Amim, I went to the Diplomat Hotel to try and talk to residents. I saw a few women sitting outside, enjoying the weather, and of course, I had to talk to them. There was a huge language barrier, but I did my best to communicate.
I actually saw a woman, Ana, who I had met on a different day (earlier in the trip). She immediately recognized and greeted me with the same enthusiasm.
The best part about this visit was that there was no clear communication. But we all did our best with Google translate, hand gestures, and smiles.
Diplomat hotel residents singing an old Russian song called ‘The Blue Scarf.’