Young Leader in Israeli Knesset Explains Threats Facing Israel — and Praises New U.S. Approach

By Josh Shepherd Published on March 13, 2018

Violent attacks by Iran’s radical Islamic regime have been a growing threat to Israel. The rise of its influence in the region — including on the northern borders of Israel — have recently led U.S. and Israeli forces to step up their joint task force. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration plans to unveil its framework for a Mideast peace plan developed in dialogue with Israeli leaders. This comes on the heels of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Washington, DC, early this month to address pro-Israel activists. He praised the impending move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, though some believe it will spark further unrest.

Formerly a protester, Sharren Haskel says that serving in the Israeli Border Patrol opened her eyes to the threats her homeland faces. The 33-year-old rising Israeli political star is now a player in the drama. Haskel serves in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. (“Knesset” means “Great Assembly” in Hebrew.) She’s the ruling Likud Party’s youngest leader and often works with Netanyahu. Their platform stresses free enterprise and a strong national defense.

She spoke in an interview from her office near Tel Aviv, Israel.

Israeli Leader Contrasts Two U.S. Presidents

The Stream: In your view, have U.S. policies towards Israel moved in the right direction over the past year? 

Haskel: We know that we had some challenges with the previous administration. It was quite clear. But between the U.S. Congress, the Israeli Knesset and British Parliament, there are strong bonds and friendships impossible to untie.

The previous U.S. administration thought they knew what was right for the Middle East. They said that they had the solutions for the problems here and would lead us towards it. The Trump administration has a different approach. They understand that the people who live in this area experience all that is happening. We are the ones who understand the ideologies, history and geography at play here.

Why it is important to talk with those who have different views

We live in a free country. The most important thing is that we hear everybody. We might disagree, and it’s okay to argue. In Israel, we have very heated debates.

The principle of open dialogue is to make sure everybody has a voice and is being heard. When it comes to a vote, I make a decision after I’ve heard a wide spectrum of opinions and solutions. This is part of our democracy.

If we silence one side of the aisle, it’s dangerous. One of the most important things is that the people have a voice — even those who say things that offend me. It gives me the opportunity to answer back. For example, there is a lot of debate in the defense and religious communities over whether women should serve in combat units. I was a combat fighter in the military for almost three years, serving in the border patrol.

As much as it hurts me to hear males saying that women cannot serve in these positions — it actually offends me — it also gives me an opportunity to answer back. I invite those who served with me to testify before the Knesset, and men see women who are serving in the field. It opens up a frank discussion when you’re not trying to shut down someone.

— Sharren Haskel

Now the U.S. wants to help this region reach stability in the long run. They are leaning towards “Let’s work together on better solutions. We can cooperate together, walking side by side.” The friends of America in the Middle East appreciate this approach. It’s easier for us to work together.

Growing Threats to Freedom

The Stream: As a young woman who has lived around the world, including in Canada and Australia, why do you view Israel as unique?

Haskel: In our region, Israel represents a flag of hope. Some of the hardest conflicts in the world — Muslims against Christians and Yazidis, Shia against Sunni — are centered in this region. We’ve seen violent conflicts among the very diverse populations in these countries around us in the Middle East.

Israel has the same challenges. We have such a diverse community here in Israel. We have Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bedouins — the list goes on and on. Yet it’s proof that no matter how complicated your society is, the values of freedom and democracy are yearned for in Middle Eastern cultures also.

Israel brings hope to the people around us, that one day more freedom can be possible in their countries as well.

The Stream: What concerns you the most regarding Israel’s future and security? 

Haskel: Obviously, Iran is the biggest threat for our security. Not just for Israel’s security, but for the entire Middle East. This is why we’ve been able to partner with some countries around Israel, because we have a mutual enemy.

Iran is saying quite clearly that they want to eliminate the State of Israel and control the region. They want to dominate the Arab world and destroy the West. They see the United States and Israel as their biggest enemies. They are not hiding their intentions. More than that, they are actually trying to create weapons to fulfill those desires as well.

We’ve seen Iran expand its influence across the Middle East. They have proxies in Yemen and Iraq. They’ve been trying in Lebanon and Syria as well. This is something we must make sure we prevent.

Free Enterprise, Free Speech and Innovation

The Stream: Some find you an enigma as a political leader. You are part of the Likud party, with a free-market platform. Why do you champion causes like the environment and animal welfare?

Haskel: We touch on many issues in the Knesset, including energy and the environment. These are matters that all of us care about, from both sides. No one from the left or the right wants to drink water that is polluted or breathe air that has dangerous chemicals in it. No one wants to eat food that was grown in poisoned soil and will make you sick.

Yet the parties address these issues differently. We all want to see our economy grow, for people to have an opportunity to make a better life for themselves. The left and right believe in different ways to achieve that. If we want cleaner energy here in Israel, I believe the only way to create that is by opening markets.

In Israel, electricity is a monopoly of the government. We need to reduce bureaucracy and regulation to let private businesses be able to gain profit from it. The carbon tax and policies like that have failed. We need to open it up so people can profit from recycling. If you recycle certain chemicals, you can actually sell them again and make a business out of that.

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Now there are a lot of renewable energy companies here working on solar, hydro and other technologies. These are small businesses with entrepreneurs and scientists who are actually exporting this technology globally. They cannot do business in Israel because of the government monopoly on electricity. We should give these entrepreneurs an opportunity to compete with the Israeli public utilities.

It’s not just creating a better economy based on competition and reducing prices; those companies are creating cheaper, cleaner energy. People want that. For me, going with these principles creates a cleaner future in a sustainable way — not something that’s relying on taxes that someone will cut and cause the enterprise to fail. Innovation is based in private ownership and free enterprise.

Looking Past Propaganda to Find Truth

The Stream: Speaking of rhetoric that causes offense, there are those who accuse Israel of having racist or apartheid policies. How do you respond?

Haskel: You just need to come to Israel to see the reality through your own eyes, and not through some propaganda. When you come here, you understand it. If you stand for human rights, liberty and equality, then you have to stand with Israel. Israel is a symbol of all of these values here in our region.

If you come and see every aspect of our society, all minority groups are taking a vital part in it. If you go to our medical system, you see everybody being treated together side by side in a hospital. You also see Muslims, Christians, Druze, Jews and many more working together as nurses, doctors, as head of hospitals. The head of the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, for example, is from an Arab minority.

If you look at our school system and universities, we study together. Minority leaders give lectures freely. If you go to our judicial system, everyone is tried in the same courts. The judges and lawyers are very ethnically diverse. On the Israel Supreme Court, there are two Arab judges. You do not see this degree of ethnic diversity in positions of power in any other country around Israel.

Could you imagine a high court judge in Syria from a Jewish minority? Or in Lebanon, Iran or the Palestinian Authority? It doesn’t happen. Yet they try to call Israel a racist country. There is propaganda, and then there is the reality. You just need to come to Israel to see it with your own eyes.


Watch a recent CBN interview with MK Sharren Haskel:


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