Last week, during the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C., TanenbaumCHAT student Zach Weisleder interviewed Dov Lipman, a former U.S. citizen who served as a member of Yesh Atid in Knesset from 2013-2015.
If America asked Israel for advice on their gun issues, what advice would Israel give them?
I actually do think that America can learn from Israel’s gun policy. In Israel, it is very difficult for a person to acquire a gun. You had to have served in the army, received proper training, as there is no such thing as a person going to a store and buying 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, and therefore, I would definitely recommend that America take a look at Israel’s policies and think 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. What I learned from my time in the Knesset, is that you can put aside all of your disagreements, and still be the best of friends.
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 former Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper. There was a tremendous feeling of kinship and closeness. Now that exists with the United States also, I don’t want to in any way suggest that it is not, but there was something extra we felt from the Canadian delegation that was very special. Israel often feels very isolated, and when people come and give us the big boost, it does a tremendous amount for our country.
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?
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, enabled me to bring that message to Israeli politics and see everyone for who they 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. I’d see someone of 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. How can we tighten up our pro-Israel dialogue on campus 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 come empowered, when they have 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.
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.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.