Israel Legislative Exchange 2011
December 29 – January 5, 2011/2012
Representatives of NCSL from across the country visited Israel as part of a legislative leaders’ study tour in coordination with the American Israel Friendship League (AIFL) from December 29 – January 5, 2011/2012. AIFL strengthens ties between Americans and Israelis based on shared democratic values. This exchange is the fourth annual exchange facilitated in partnership between AIFL and NCSL’s International Programs department in an effort to share best practices and learn from the strengths of our two countries.
The participants of the delegation were welcomed by Professor Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University upon their arrival in Jerusalem on Thursday, December 29. On Friday, they visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. The Yad Vashem is visited by thousands of people daily, and is a living memorial, constantly recovering and memorializing the names and life stories of all the individual Holocaust victims. NCSL participants visited many Holy Sites in the Old City of Jerusalem including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sites, which demonstrated how religious plurality is encouraged in the nation of many faiths. Dinner was hosted by Uri Bar-Ner, Senior Advisor to the Chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) and a former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey. Mr. Bar-Ner has served as the deputy Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served in diplomatic missions in Europe and Asia. Having the opportunity to spend time with such a distinguished diplomat was an excellent opportunity for the participants to learn about Israeli foreign policy.
During the trip, the NCSL delegation had dinner with Mr. Khaled Abu Tomeh. Toameh is the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and has produced several documentaries on Palestinian affairs. Because he was born to an Israeli Arab father and a Palestinian Arab mother, he has called himself an “Israeli-Arab-Muslim-Palestinian,” and has an invaluable perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he was able to share with participants. It was a rare experience for the NCSL participants to hear directly from someone who has an identity based in both sides of the conflict. The ability to hear about multiple perspectives regarding the conflict gave participants a well-rounded understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship from someone who has experienced it.
On New Year’s Day, participants had meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as a meeting with Ron Dermer, the Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given the history of friendship that has existed between the United States and Israel, this meeting with foreign policy directives was especially pertinent given the current state of affairs between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East. Participants were able to visit the Supreme Court on Monday and meet with Justice Izhak Englard, who served on the Israeli Supreme Court from 1997 to 2003. This meeting gave participants a glimpse of the judicial branch of government and its role in Israel. Unlike the United States, Israel does not have a written constitution. Instead of dealing with cases that apply to a constitution, the Israeli Supreme Court hears cases that involve governmental authorities, and reviews both civil and criminal cases. Discussion about the relationship between the Knesset (Israel’s legislative branch) and the Israeli Supreme Court was informative as without a constitutional mandate, the Knesset’s power is not as limited as Congress’s power is in the United States. This experience gave NCSL participants a widened perspective on alternative democratic structures that exist and a comparative knowledge about Israeli legislators’ relationship with Israel’s judicial branch and their own relationship as legislators with the judicial branch in the United States.
Participants then visited the Knesset and were privileged to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, His Excellency Dan Meridor. Dinner that evening was hosted by Dr. Eran Lerman, Deputy National Security Advisor for Foreign Policy and International Affairs for the National Security council. Meeting with His Excellency Meridor was an important opportunity for NCSL participants to connect current events in the Middle East to their own policy positions. NCSL participants were able to come to a more complete understanding of Israel’s perspective on nuclear threats, believed to threaten Israel’s very existence. The fact that the United States undoubtedly remains one of Israel’s closest allies made this meeting extremely important for the U.S. legislators strengthening ties between the U.S. and Israel.
On Tuesday, January 3rd, the participants moved from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, where they visited the Holy Sites on the Sea of Galilee and took a strategic tour of the Northern border, including the Golan Heights, an area fought over by Israel and Syria for decades. Breakfast was hosted by Professor Uzi Rabi, Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. His fields of specialization include the modern history of states and societies in the Persian Gulf; state building in the Middle East; oil and politics in the Middle East; Iranian-Arab relations; and Sunni-Shi’i tensions, which made for an enlightening close to an extraordinary experience in Israel.
NCSL is pleased with the outcome of this fourth exchange in partnership with AIFL. It is clear that the participants gained beneficial knowledge as to the democratic structure of Israel, as well as Israel’s current foreign policy goals. NCSL looks forward to the next exchange and the opportunity to further strengthen the ties between our two nations.
Updated January 16, 2012