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This Knesset member wants diaspora Jews to connect to Israel — but not intervene in its internal affairs

Dan Illouz, a Canadian-born member of the ruling Likud Party, also called Biden’s criticism of judicial overhaul a ‘blatant interference in Israel’s democratic process’

A few weeks ago, a rookie member of the Knesset launched a caucus to strengthen relations between Israel and diaspora Jews. Dan Illouz said he wanted to assure Jews in his native Canada and around the world that “we’ll take their concerns into consideration whenever we define policy here in Israel.”

On Wednesday Illouz blasted President Joe Biden, whom most American Jews support, for crossing “a red line” by expressing concern over a judiciary overhaul Israel’s right-wing government is trying to push through the Knesset.

“Friends do not act like this towards each other,” the 37-year-old Likud party member wrote in a letter sent to most members of Congress. “The accusations made by President Biden were a blatant intervention in Israel’s democratic process by criticizing internal issues that should be defined in an internal manner.”

Illouz similarly bristles at the many protests that ex-pat Israelis have staged in the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and other cities in protest of the plan, calling the gatherings “very unpatriotic.” But he added that he finds fault not with American Jews who have attended them, but with Israelis who are encouraging protests outside Israel’s borders.

He noted that he also rejected, when he still lived in Canada, calls by conservative Jews to protest the Gaza disengagement plan in 2005.

“We don’t do protests against the policies of the state of Israel in other countries,” Illouz told the Forward.

Like their counterparts in Israel, critics of the overhaul plan in the diaspora warn that it will pack the courts with right-wing judges and dismantle the nation’s system of checks and balances.

The stark contrast between Illouz’s outrage against a sitting American president whose views on Israel’s political crisis are widely shared among American Jews, and his founding of a caucus to help diaspora Jews feel as if they had a stake in Israeli current affairs, did not go unnoticed.

“It sounds like Illouz wants to engage as long as we agree with him,” said Joel Rubin, a national security expert and former executive director of the American Jewish Congress.

And Illouz was wrong to charge Biden with stepping outside of his lane, added Rubin, who also served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration. “The U.S. is observing what is taking place inside Israel and reacting to it,” he said. “It’s the Israeli people that are rejecting these proposals.”

Illouz’s letter, urging Congress to “use all the tools at your disposal to ensure these types of problematic statements do not happen again,” echoed statements from other members of the right-wing coalition government in response to Biden’s pointed criticism.

After aliyah

Illouz was born and raised in Montreal to Moroccan Jewish parents and made aliyah in 2009. He secured the slot reserved for an immigrant representative on the Likud list in the recent election.

He previously served as a member of the Jerusalem City Council and as the Israeli director of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America. Illouz is a strong proponent of the judicial overhaul plan, although he said he supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s move on Monday to suspend the plan’s progress through the Knesset in hopes of compromising with the opposition.

Resistance to the plan has snowballed since Netanyahu formed a new coalition government in January, with about 1 in 5 Jewish Israelis joining a street protest, and Israeli unions organizing a general strike earlier in the week.

Illouz briefly worked in 2013 as a legislative aide for Yariv Levin, the justice minister pushing the overhaul plan. 

He said American Jewish leaders’ rejection of the plan “has to do with perception rather than facts” and that the opposition had done a much better job than the government in shaping understanding of the overhaul, which – in its current form — would allow a simple majority of the Knesset to negate a Supreme Court decision. 

Those opposed to the plan fear the right-wing government will have carte blanche to enact an agenda that will limit the rights of Palestinians, non-Orthodox Jews and LGBTQ Israelis. Now that the government paused the legislative protest, Illouz said talks between the parties will allow passage of the plan with “more consensus.” 

Illouz said he has met in recent weeks with diaspora leaders who flew to Israel to voice their concerns about the plan — and others who participated in virtual meetings. He said he didn’t try to change their opinions, but rather explain the government’s intentions and the plan’s merits, which he said would only strengthen Israeli democracy by empowering elected representatives. 

Israeli and diaspora Jews must learn to listen to each other, and work to understand each others’ fears and “after we’ve had this discussion, then we as Israelis have to define our own destiny and make our own decisions,” he said. 

Illouz said the caucus he helped establish is a forum to discuss issues on which there is broad consensus, such as combatting rising antisemitism and combatting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, and “also subjects that we disagree on.” 

Editors note: This post was updated to accurately describe the MK’s objection to protests organized by Israelis outside of Israel. 

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