Female Knesset members contrast U.S, Israeli systems

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Four female Israeli members of the Knesset spent 12 days here, meeting officials at the federal, state and city level, building bonds they seemed convinced would carry on long after they returned home.

The women met with members of Congress and the State Department, spent a day in Annapolis and ended their trip in New York City. Their visit was sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, which is designed to create connections between the two governments and promote understanding.


The government brings about 5,000 people to the United States through this program, with most participants coming from the science and business communities, according to a State Department spokesman.

While the members of the Labor, Yesh Atid and HaBayit HaYehudi parties already were acquainted with the American government, they still marveled at how Americans always know that a president’s term is up at the end of four years as opposed to their country where elections can be called at any time.

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They also were impressed how little things change when a member of the opposition party takes over in America. In Israel, things are less stable and a new government brings major changes, they said.

This was the first trip to America for Michal Biran, a Labor Party member and chair of her party’s Young Guard. She called America’s government “more stable,” noting that things in Israel change much more quickly.


She was happy to realize that although she met many different people, they all were “very good friends of Israel. It’s a really good feeling to know we have partners.”

Biran said she enjoyed asking everyone how they got into politics and why they enjoyed it.

Also, she said, “We are totally envious” of how large is the staff of a member of Congress. In Israel, they only have two assistants to read all communications and deal with constituents.

Ayelet Shaked, a member of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party and chair of My Israel Movement, said meeting with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) taught her how very different the American government is from Israel’s government. She was particularly surprised to learn that President Obama must sign every bill before it can become law.

“A good legislator can pass one or two laws each year,” she said of Knesset members. Legislators in American have more power, but in Israel, “the system is more flexible.”

She thought it was important for Americans to hear from Knesset members with different views on the peace process. She also was pleased to realize what a strong connection so many people have with her small country. “It’s really deep,” she said, noting she had met with members of J Street, AIPAC and American Arab Institute.

Stav Shaffir, of the Labor Party, noted that since all four women are only in their second year at the Knesset, it was good to form as many bonds as possible in America. Those she met, “really listened. Not all of them are Jewish and still they cared very much for Israel,” she said.

Shaffir, who is 28, said she focused on how the American government works to engage young people. In Israel, she said, young people take to the streets, but they don’t have power. “Our young generation is very active, but it’s not organized enough,” she said.

Also participating was Yifat Kariv, a member of Yesh Atid.

The women were chosen for the program by the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. They arrived in D.C. on April 27 and stayed through part of May 2 before going to Annapolis to learn about state government. They then went to New York City to receive an overview of regional issues. The program was to end May 8.

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