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Israel’s new diaspora minister hits the ground running

Amichai Chikli ordered an immediate halt to his predecessor’s multi-million-shekel contribution to a leftist NGO promoting a progressive agenda.

Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Likud MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Dec. 28, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Likud MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Dec. 28, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

The swearing-in on Thursday of Israel’s 37th government elicited a collective sigh of relief from right-wing voters, for whom the nearly two full months that it took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to forge his coalition felt like an eternity. As soon as the ministers finished uttering their oaths of office, however, there was a sense on the part of supporters that the upshot of the arduous negotiations had been worth the wait.

With the team finally in place and ready to get to work, the shrill warnings by naysayers about the imminent demise of Israeli democracy were relegated to background noise. Ironically, while most of the hysteria surrounded the portfolios and plans of the “extremist” haredim and religious Zionists—and vow of the incoming crew to reform the judicial system—the first concrete action came from Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli of the Likud.

Chikli, who is also the minister of social equality, announced on Saturday that he was ordering the immediate halt to an agreement approved by his predecessor, Nachman Shai—shortly after the Nov. 1 Knesset elections—to provide millions of tax shekels to a left-wing organization promoting a program in the United States whose tracks include “leadership research in the fields of justice and gender equality.”

The NGO in question is the Association for Economic and Social Studies, associated with the “progressive Zionist” Berl Katznelson Foundation (BKF) and the radical New Israel Fund. BKF used to be referred to sarcastically as the “ATM of the Labor Party.” Today, it manages the party’s archive.

Shai—who made the shady deal to fork out cash to an association whose intersectional woke-ism involves viewing Israel as an oppressor of Palestinians and women—is a member of Labor (though its poor showing in the election resulted in his not having a seat in the current Knesset). Still, he apparently couldn’t resist getting in one last hurrah: abetting propaganda initiatives of those abroad who seek to save Israel from itself through “education.”

Chikli’s prompt move to put a stop to the travesty doesn’t simply represent a breath of fresh air; it signifies the onset of a genuine wind of change. And a shift in thinking and policy when it comes to Diaspora-related matters is critical.

Jews abroad are not a uniform bunch, and those whose support is granted or withheld based on their judgment of Israel’s morality shouldn’t be coddled and courted by the powers-that-be in Jerusalem. On the contrary, it’s the sympathizers who’re worth cultivating and bolstering.

To his credit, the special challenges he faces as a right-winger replacing a progressive like Shai—at a time when non-Orthodox Jews are up in arms over the leanings of the new Israeli government—didn’t deter him. Maybe the fact that his father is a Conservative rabbi (ordained at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem) will serve him in good enough stead with the U.S. synagogue and summer-camp set to be given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps not.

But two things that the 41-year-old “renegade” from former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party has shown he won’t do are renege on his principles and compromise on his ideology.

This weekend, he also proved that he puts his money where his mouth is; or, rather, removes it from the clutches of Israel’s ill-wishers. Let’s hope that his colleagues are equally game to hit the ground running.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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