Newly elected Member of Knesset Tehila Friedman grabbed the attention of both social and mainstream media in Israel and around the Jewish world with her impassioned, “maiden speech,” on the Knesset floor on 11 August 2020.
Traditionally, MK’s use their “maiden speeches” to talk about their path to the Knesset, as well as to describe their ambitions as parliamentarians. Friedman used this opportunity to issue a heartfelt call for unity among diverse cross-sections of Israeli society in the aftermath of three national elections in less than two years.
Before the beginning of her tenure in Knesset, Friedman, a member of the Blue and White Party, served as head of the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a nonprofit in Israel with a focus on education and policy among the Religious Zionist communities. In her remarks on the Knesset floor, Friedman describes herself as “a Jew, a religious person, religious-Zionist, nationalist, feminist, and Jerusalemite,” but goes on to clarify that despite her multiplicity of identities, she still has much to learn from other communities in Israel that equally regard the country as their home, making direct note of the Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Arab, Druze, and Bedouin communities.
She unequivocally declared that: “My [political] center is a preexisting center, a fervent center, that is unwilling to compromise on its centrism, on its responsibility for all the residents of the country, on the room it has for all who truly want to live together, that puts limits on extremism and selfishness, a center able to sacrifice its own life on the altar of moderation, of democracy, of a Judaism that makes room, a center that defends bodily the rules of the game that enable us to have an argument without falling to pieces.”
Friedman’s fervent call for unity among different facets of Israeli society comes as she introduced a new bill that would give Diaspora Jews a voice in the Knesset on issues in Israel that directly affect worldwide Jewry. The legislation would create a new position of “Diaspora Commissioner” who would be chosen in consultation with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.
“This bill would strengthen the connection between the State of Israel, government of Israel and Diaspora Jewry and stop significant sectors of the Jewish world from being distanced from the state,” Friedman’s explanatory note on the bill states, further citing crucial Israeli-Diaspora divides, including the Western Wall agreement, conversion, and the Nation-State Law.
Friedman emphasized the importance of this bill, posing the query: “If we are not for the Jewish people, why do we deserve a state?”