Knesset Member Dalia Itzik tested students’ Hebrew skills during a Feb. 14 visit to Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
Following a brief presentation in English, the representative of the centrist Kadima Party encouraged her audience to ask their questions in Hebrew.
She also encouraged the girls in the room to speak up — perhaps no surprise for the first female speaker of the Knesset.
The ensuing discussion focused on Iran, Kadima’s vision of land for peace, the benefits of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and how best to advocate for Israel.
In a follow-up conversation with New Jersey Jewish News, Itzik voiced her concern over the future of Egypt.
“I hope whoever follows [Hosni] Mubarak will keep the [peace] agreement with Israel. Even though it was a cold peace, it was still peace,” she said. “Mubarak was the one who stabilized the region, and we do not know who will replace him.”
She added: “If it will be a democracy at the end of the day, that will be a wonderful contribution to the atmosphere in the Middle East, but if not, it will bring the region into turmoil.”
Itzik defended the Israeli leadership’s reticence to celebrate Mubarak’s downfall, recalling previous democracy movements in the region.
“It is natural to identify with the students who want freedom and democracy,” she said. “But I worry that the Islamic Brotherhood already may kidnap the revolution.
“I hope there will be a democracy. That will be a really good surprise.”
However, she said, “we have had a bad experience. When they did elections under the previous administration in the Gaza Strip, the result was that Hamas entered — and look what happened: They attack Israel on a daily basis. So we have reasons to be suspicious.”
In her question-and-answer session with the students, the first three questions came from the boys’ side of a transparent mehitza that divided the room at the Orthodox day school. (Her presentation immediately followed morning prayers.)
Itzik turned to the girls to push them to participate.
“Al ta’asoo li bushot; anahnu yahad” (“Don’t embarrass me; we’re together”), she said to them.
Her strategy worked, and a girl rose to ask the final question regarding Iran.
Itzik told NJJN in a conversation the day after her presentation, “Naturally when I see women and girls and not one raises her hand, it comes to me to do that. I’m sure they can add to the conversation and have interesting remarks to make.”
The entire high school student body, along with a smattering of parents, faculty members, and administration representatives, attended the program, which was sponsored by State of Israel Bonds.
Itzik emphasized the Kadima Party’s desire for a two-state solution, and her concern that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas might not be “strong enough” to effect a deal.
She called Israel a “start-up nation” for its technological and business achievements, but encouraged students to continue to “open your hearts and your pocketbooks for Israel.” She added, “We still need you.”
She spoke about captured soldier Gilad Shalit and closed with the prayer “Oseh Shalom” (“He Who Makes Peace”), which she called her favorite.
Following her presentation at Kushner, Itzik attended a discussion with the participants at an Israel Bonds Women’s Division event.