Dr. Einat Wilf entered the Knesset last month upon the resignation of Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz. She is the author of two books that explore key issues in Israeli society. Her first book, “My Israel, Our Generation,” about Israel’s past and future from the perspective of the younger generation, was published in Hebrew in 2003 and in English in 2006. Her second book, “Back to Basics: How to Save Israeli Education (at no additional cost),” which offers a detailed and feasible policy proposal for saving Israel’s ailing education system, was published in Hebrew in 2008.
Previously, Dr. Wilf served as a Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, taught social entrepreneurship at Sapir College, was a Foreign Policy Advisor to Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, served as a strategic consultant, was with McKinsey & Company in New York City and a General Partner with Koor Corporate Venture Capital in Israel. Born and raised in Israel, She served as an Intelligence Officer in the Israel Defense Forces and holds a BA in Government and Fine Arts from Harvard University, an MBA from INSEAD in France, and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cambridge.
1. Congratulations on your entrance to the Knesset. What are your personal priorities for parliamentary activity?
Thank you for the warm wishes. The priorities I have set for myself for parliamentary activity include public education, public diplomacy and politics. Specifically, I intend to devote my efforts, as I have done in the past two years, to changing government policy with respect to public education along the lines of policies detailed in my book “Back to Basics: How to Save Israeli Education (at no additional cost).” With respect to public diplomacy, I intend to employ my skills in the service of Israel’s international standing, insisting on the separation of criticism of Israel’s policies from the basic right of the Jewish people to a sovereign homeland in the land of Israel. Finally, I will do my best to encourage young people and qualified individuals to view politics as a vocation worthy of their efforts and talents.
2. What do you think are the key factors blocking the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations? What can the Labor Party do, as a partner in the government, to move the process along?
Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations depends on the geopolitics of the moment. As long as there are powerful external forces that allow either the Israelis or the Palestinians to believe that they can achieve their aims through the use of force, violence and acts of force will remain the preferred choice of both sides. Peace will only become possible once one side or both have completely and totally given up on the possibility of force and violence. The last time we had such an environment was immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf War when it appeared to the Arabs and the Palestinians that the US was the only game in town. And even given that extraordinary opportunity, we failed to make peace. At the moment, I see no such alignment of global forces that creates a true opportunity for peace. This is precisely the reason that Likud and Labor are able to cooperate so closely in government. The role of the Labor party is to be on the lookout for the emergence of a renewed opportunity and to then lead boldly to make the most of this opportunity.
3. The Labor Party has obviously lost a great deal of public support and appeal. What can the party do to reestablish itself as a serious social democratic alternative in the eyes of the Israeli electorate?
Despite the current malaise, Israeli political history demonstrates that there is no reason to lose hope. I see the potential for a bright future for the Labor Party. It is important for us to re-engage are members and do a better job of explaining what we are as a party. There is a widely held misconception that the Labor Party once adhered to a strict socialist ideology and today the party has become ideologically lost. In actual fact, the hallmark of Labor was always Zionist pragmatism, devoid of dangerous messianism and utopianism. Labor always placed the need to fulfill the mission of Zionism ahead of a socialist dogma. The party’s guiding question has always been ‘what is good for Zionism?’ rather than ‘What is good for socialism?’ so the challenge of the party’s renewal lies in providing an inspiring and relevant answer to the first question.
4. This newsletter goes out to thousands of people who identify themselves as progressive Zionists – what would you like to say to them regarding the current state of Israel-Diaspora relations?
Israel-Diaspora relations are ripe for a remaking. When more than 90% of the world’s Jews, including those in Israel, live in the world’s most open, developed and prosperous societies it makes no sense to prolong a relationship based on notions of sacrifice or guilt. Jews living in Israel are by and large living very good lives and there is no longer room for the notion that life in Israel is a life of sacrifice. If anything, life in Israel provides Jews with the unique opportunity to be meaningfully involved in one of the greatest undertakings of the Jewish people. Conversely, Jews living outside Israel live in open societies that enable them to live as Jews both individually and collectively. They are not persecuted. Not only are Jews safer and more prosperous worldwide, human beings in general today also live longer healthier lives, and are highly networked and mobile. Under these conditions, one must accept that more and more Jews are leading lives of flows, where they might come in and out of Israel, in and out of Judaism. Rather than demanding that Jews make lasting decisions about their lives as Jews or Israelis, we should build frameworks that allow people to participate in Israeli and Jewish life, when they wish it, and to ‘take a break’ when they want it.
Israel has traditionally asked Jews to relate to it in one of two ways – making Aliya or contributing money. But these are relevant only to a small group. Today Israel should call on all Jews to make Israel either their first or second home – and second home does not mean real-estate – it means engaging in a life-long meaningful relationship with Israel and its people. It means learning Hebrew, visiting Israel, spending certain periods of one’s life in the country – shorter or longer, finding a professional home in Israel that allows one to contribute her talents, whether as lawyer, teacher or investor. Israel is still one of the most exciting and daring things the Jewish people have ever done, and we should make sure that all Jews, whether they permanently live in Israel or not, find a way to participate in this undertaking.