Interview with Israel's Former MK, Dov Lipman
Last week, during the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Dov Lipman, a Maryland native, who renounced his United States citizenship in order to take a parliamentary seat in the Knesset five years ago. Lipman, who served as a member of Yesh Atid in Knesset from 2013-2015, gave me plenty of insight on what his transition to Israel politics was like, and how Israel’s relationship with Canada, America, and other allying countries are stronger now than ever.
If America asked Israel for advice on their gun issues, what advice would Israel give them?
Believe it or not, I do believe that America can learn greatly from Israel’s gun policy. In Israel, it is quite difficult for a person to acquire a gun. In order to have a gun, one must have served in the army, and received proper safety training. People can’t randomly go easily into a store and buy a gun. You see, in Israel, we don’t have the craziness in terms of the shootings, we have terrorism we have to worry about. Citizen-based acts of terrorism are extremely rare in Israel, because the guns are in the hands of people who know how to use them, will use them responsibly when they have to against terror. I would definitely recommend that America takes a look at Israel’s policies and thinks about them. That doesn’t mean that there’s no freedom to own a gun, but there has to be strict regulations in place to make sure that they are being used properly.
What was the most surprising thing you learned when entering Israeli politics?
I have to be honest with you, this answer is going to shock most people, it was the amount of camaraderie across party lines. You see, the Knesset looks like a very hectic place, where people are screaming and yelling. And while they are, that’s only when things are centred around politics. Behind the scenes, the amount of respect, even across party lines, from all of our streams, we have people working together on so many things. It is a lesson that I believe people need to learn. Politics is politics, and we can have our disputes, but you could be best of friends whether you’re left wing, right wing, religious, or secular, you can’t let things get personal. I learned from my time in the Knesset, that you can put aside all of your disagreements, and still be the best of friends.
As a Canadian, I was wondering, what is the biggest difference between how Canada and the United States are viewed by Israel.
I can tell you this: I was in the Knesset for a few years, and the most zionistic speech we heard was not from a member of parliament, or from a minister in the Israeli government, it was from the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. There was a tremendous feeling of kinship and closeness. Now that this also exists with the United States, I don’t want to in any way suggest that this is not a positive, but there was something extra special felt from the Canadian delegation that was very meaningful. Israel often feels very isolated, and when people come and give us a big boost, it does a tremendous amount for our country. So that’s what I would say is the biggest difference.
You have been referred to as an outsider (American), who became an insider (Israeli) politically. What did you bring to the table that was unique because of your North American background?
Very interesting. I grew up in America, where there is a tremendous amount of tolerance and co-existence. Not having the boxes that we have in Israel, it enabled me to bring that message towards Israeli politics and see everyone for who they are are, without being boxed in as we often see in Israel. This is something that put me at a great advantage when entering Israeli politics. I see an Arab, I grew up with Muslims. If someone is of a different colour, that’s just the way I grew up. This was something that was just so natural to me, which is not always so natural to Israelis because to them, the “other” was always the enemy. As a former American, this was something positive and unique that I was able to bring to Israeli politics.
Next year I will be attending university. Bashing Israel by using fake information makes it seem like they are winning the propaganda war. Our attempts to silence the critics require extensive and well-thought answers. How can we tighten up our dialogue so it can be more easily heard without losing our message?
I think people have to be very educated. People have to have facts. When they’re asked questions, they have to be able to answer them, and that’s the most important thing. When students become empowered, when they have all the facts, information, and training, then they are able to do it. If they don’t have it, they’re not prepared, and then all of these questions come, and these students themselves even begin to question what they are all about. So I advise that every student before they go to university, to be true, educated, and really know how to be advocates, and be able to answer the questions that come their way.