Israel Legislative Exchange
November 10-16, 2010
Representatives of NCSL from across the country visited Israel as part of a legislative study tour in coordination with the American Israel Friendship League (AIFL) from November 10-16, 2010. Participants included NCSL President, Senator Richard Moore (MA), NCSL Immediate Past President, Don Balfour, Representative Jeff Arnold, Senator Denton Darrington, Senator Deb Fischer, Senator Steven Horsford, Senator Evie Hudak, and Representative Eric Turner.
Upon arrival, the group met David Harman, who gave the NCSL delegation an overview of the political, social and economic climate of Israel. Israel is a country about the size of New Jersey and bordered on the north by Lebanon, on the northwest by Syria, and the East by Jordan, and the west by the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt. Of the 4.5 million inhabitants of Israel, 800,000 are non-Jews. Hebrew is the official language. Military service is mandatory for all men and women ages 18-21.
On the morning of November 11th, the participants were guided through the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem where they got the opportunity to sit in on the trial of a man appealing previous drug charges. Rulings are typically made by a panel of three judges and anyone can petition the court for interpretation of the law, including non-citizens. There is no death penalty in Israel except in extreme cases.
The group then headed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where they were briefed on Israel’s extensive work in counter-terrorism. A current main concern to the country is Iran because of their threat to become a nuclear power. Iran and other nations in the Arab league refuse to acknowledge Israel as a nation.
Later in the afternoon, the group traveled to the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament. In the Knessset plenary hall, where deliberation and voting takes place, the Members’ desks are divided by majority and minority coalition Members with the Prime Minister and other Minister’s desks in the center. Israel is a Parliamentary democracy and the Members of the Knesset (MK’s) are elected by party and then within the party, the members are chosen. MK’s serve four year terms and the Prime Minister, who is elected by the Knesset, serves a term of five years.
At dinner that evening, the group was met by Uri Bar-Ner an Israeli diplomat. He spoke about the complicated relations Israel has with its Arab neighbors. He mentioned that most Israelis support the “two-state solution.”
The delegation met with a retired general of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) who was the head of the country’s prisons. She mentioned that an estimated 9,000-10,000 terrorist are currently in the Israeli prison system. She stated that there are three kinds of terrorist prisoners. The first are radical extremists, who cannot be rehabilitated. The other two categories can possibly be rehabilitated if they receive education and training for jobs; these are the people who aided the terrorists by performing minor crimes like petty thievery and the ones who performed terrorist acts just for the money.
Later that day, the group traveled to the Prime Minister’s building to meet with Mr. Mark Regev, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He had just returned from a meeting at the United Nations in Louisiana. In his discussion, he expressed his belief that talks must be initiated by the highest leaders of Israel and the Palestinians. Israel realizes that helping the Palestinians prevents them from being attacked or overtaken by the Islamic extremists, and it helps improve their prosperity and self-sufficiency. He said that Netanyahu “can deliver agreement” of Israel only if it ensures the security of Israel, which means territory given away cannot be used to attack Israel. Ultimately, the two-state solution with the Palestinians’ is of the upmost importance to the Israeli government.
The group journeyed north towards the Lebanon border, passing the Sea of Galilee. Participants travelled to a post of the Israeli Defense Force and had lunch with the soldiers. Because military service is mandatory in Israel, most of the soldiers were 18-21 years old, but other soldiers had chosen the military as a profession. Two soldiers took the group to a mountain top to look out over the border. They showed us a map of the “blue line” which represents the border and shared information about the political situation in the immediate area regarding relations between the Hezbollah and Israel.
On November 16th, the delegation went to the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Barilan University and met with Professor Eytan Gilboa, who wrote a book on Israel’s international relations in the nuclear era. The delegation was joined by Professor Efraim Inbar. Both professors discussed the political climate and what they feel can and should be done by the Israeli government and what the United States government can do. Both agreed that Israel relies on the United States for its well-being.
During the exchange to Israel, the delegation was honored to visit the Vad Vashem (Memorial of Names), the Old City of Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, and the Western Wall, including the tunnels along the wall. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi for the Holy Sites in Israel, greeted the group at the Wall and shared some of the significance and history of the tunnels. Additionally, the traveled to the Mount of Olives, overlooked the entire city of Jerusalem at about 2,400 feet above sea level, visited part of the West Bank and Jericho, as well as the Dead Sea.
The delegation returned to the U.S. with a better understanding of Israel and plans to stay in touch with those they met. NCSL will continue to build relations with Israel and its membership through its cooperation with AIFL.
Updated November 30, 2010