Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis
On Monday, December 1st, Member of Knesset (MK) and Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis addressed a crowd of approximately 100 students of Yeshiva in a speech sponsored by YUPAC and the Israel Club, as well as YSU, TAC, SOY, SCWSC, and the President’s Office. Co-presidents of YUPAC, Rebecca Saragossi (SCW ‘16) and Shlomo Anapolle (YC ’16), said the event was important to give the student body a more direct perspective on certain issues, like the outbreak of violence and recent negotiations on the two-state solution, from an Israeli politician rather than through the media. They also stressed it was important for an Israeli politician to see American students like those at Yeshiva enthusiastic about Israel advocacy.
With the Middle East in another bout of turmoil, an outbreak of terrorist attacks within Israel and talk of new Israeli elections, MK Akunis had much to say. He opened by stressing that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the capital of the Jewish people, as well as the fact that Israel was and continues to be the only democracy in the Middle East. He also made sure to note that Israeli society is more diverse than people choose to recognize and that all Israeli citizens live side by side with equal rights.
Mr. Akunis then broke into a more passionate tone as he addressed what he called the “Big Lies,” which opponents of Israel in the media and elsewhere bandy about versus the “Real Truths” they ignore. He tackled “Big Lies” like Israel’s alleged war crimes against civilian populations in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the falsified notions that Israel is an “occupying power” and an “apartheid state.” Emphasizing the great lengths Israel went to protect civilian lives during the most recent conflict, Operation Protective Edge, MK Akunis also made sure to mention the catchphrase coined by Prime Minister Netanyahu: “Israel uses missiles to protect their civilians; Hamas uses their civilians to protect their missiles.”
Although he was speaking to a crowd of sympathizers, Akunis opened the floor to questions that ranged from the recent controversy surrounding the “Jewish Nation State” bill passed in Parliament to the security situation in Israel to prayer on Har Habayit. He framed the Jewish Nation bill with history, citing Herzl’s book Medinat Yehudi (Jewish Nation) and Ben-Gurion’s numerous references to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. The bill, he argued, was more a declaration than a law meant to have meaningful legislative impact, and stressed that even though certain partisans in Israel claim the bill creates second-class citizens, those concerns are completely unfounded and detached from reality. When addressing the issue of Jewish prayer on Har Habayit, Akunis noted the issue is contentious even within the Jewish Rabbinate. However, to applause, he firmly stated his belief that the Temple Mount should be open to all religions and denominations for prayer.
To end his speech, MK Akunis “enlisted” all those in attendance to serve as ambassadors for the truth. “We must oppose lies and evils in the strongest terms,” he said. As the next generation of Jewish leaders, he explained that it is our job as college students to claim the mantle in defense of Israel, separating fact from fiction, and vigorously defend Israel as the only democracy and country committed to true equality and rights in the Middle East.