Immigrants from English-speaking countries have shaped Israel since before the state was founded. Golda Meir grew up in Milwaukee before she came to the British Mandate of Palestine, co-signed the Declaration of Independence in 1948 and later became Israel's fourth prime minister.
Israel's sixth president, Chaim Herzog, was born in Belfast before he immigrated in 1935.
Even today, Anglos are among the higher echelons of Israeli society, making decisions that affect the lives of all its citizens, be it in the realm of politics, business, culture, education or society in general. Anglos enact laws, advise senior government figures, regulate the economy, fight for women's rights, and advocate on behalf of converts, immigrants, Arabs and other minorities.
In honor of the New Year, Anglo File is highlighting who we see as the 10 most influential members of the English-speaking immigrant community, people who stood out in 5771 and made a difference.
Stanley Fischer — Bank of Israel
Nobody knows how the Israeli economy would look like today without the current governor of the Bank of Israel. But one thing is clear: Stanley Fischer enjoys a level of respect and admiration rarely seen in Israel, much of his accolades coming for his efforts at buffering the country from the global financial crisis in 2008.
Born in Mazabuka, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia),Fischer joined the Zionist Habonim youth movement after having moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at age 13.
Before Fischer came to Israel in 2005, he was a professor at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, vice president and chief economist at the World Bank and deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
This year, the 67-year-old applied again for the IMF’s top job but was disqualified because of his age − causing many Israelis a sigh of relief.
Jessica Montell - B’Tselem
A liberal Berkeley upbringing and the twin values of Tikun Olam and Zionism led Jessica Montell, 43, to lead Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem.
Moving to Israel in 1991, Montell took the reigns of the group as executive director 10 years ago. B’tselem and other civil rights groups took a hit this year when right-wing Knesset members demanded a parliamentary investigation into their activities, branding them “organizations that harm the IDF and its soldiers.”
But their persistent chronicling of Palestinian civilian deaths by security forces in the West Bank bore fruit in April, finally leading the IDF to reinstate its old policy, suspended for a decade, of thoroughly investigating each of these deadly incidents.
Ron Dermer - PMO
Ron Dermer’s role as Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser goes well beyond being a yes-man for the prime minister.
The online magazine Tablet recently credited Dermer, 40, with doing “more to shape Israel’s relationship with the United States, its Arab neighbors, and the Palestinians over the past few years than any man aside from the prime minister himself.”
Dermer moved to Israel from Florida in 1996, and has served as a behind the scenes contact with the White House for Netanyahu, among other roles.
A former quarterback for the Israeli national football team and economic attaché in the Israeli embassy in Washington, Dermer has an impressive track record as political adviser, also helping Natan Sharansky’s Yisrael B’aliyah party capture several Knesset seats some years ago.
Neal Hendel - Supreme Court
As one of Israel’s 14 Supreme Court justices, Hendel, 59, plays a crucial part in Israeli life on a near-daily basis.
In June, the New York native known for letting Talmudic and U.S. law influence his decisions, rejected an appeal by a senior Hamas operative who was behind two deadly terror attacks.
Earlier this month, he made headlines for issuing an emergency injunction halting the demolition of three illegal structures in the settlement outpost of Migron, though he rescinded it two hours later.
Hendel is only the second U.S. immigrant to serve at the country’s highest judicial level, after Kentucky-born Shimon Agranat presided from 1965 to 1976.
Alan Hoffmann — Jewish Agency
As director general of the Jewish Agency, Alan Hoffmann, 65, is one of the key architects of the sweeping reforms the organization underwent this year. While the agency traditionally revolved around promoting and facilitating immigration, the new vision formulated by chairman Natan Sharansky and executed by Hoffmann sees the organization more as supporter of programs such as Masa and Birthright Israel. “The Jewish Agency’s new strategic direction focuses on connecting young Jews from the Jewish world with Israel as part of their Jewish identity,” Hoffmann, who was born in Johannesburg, told Anglo File. “This is ultimately the core of future aliyah on one hand, and the future of Jewish leadership of world Jewry on the other hand.” Some people criticized the reforms, fearing immigration numbers would drop. For now, the facts seem to speak for Hoffmann: Immigration climbed by 19 percent this year.
Michael Oren — Ambassador to Washington
Last week, Israel’s New York-born ambassador to the U.S. again had ample opportunity to show how important the job he assumed in July 2009 really is.
At the sidelines of the United Nation’s General Assembly, Oren (born Bornstein), who moved to Israel in 1978 and worked for Haaretz before publishing two bestsellers on Middle East history, left his embassy in Washington for New York where he was busy explaining Israel’s position to its closest ally.
His hour-long meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama was “very warm and positive,” the 56-year-old said. he has also spent time marshalling support for Israel among Americans: Last Yom Kippur he went from synagogue to synagogue delivering sermons about Israel’s decision making.
But representing Israel in America has not always been painless for Oren, who has been heckled by student’s in the U.S. protesting Israel’s policies.
Yosef Abramowitz — Arava Power Company
Boston-bred Yosef Abramowitz, 47, made history this year when his Arava Power Company launched Israel’s first major solar panel field which will be able to produce nearly five megawatts at max capacity at Kibbutz Ketura.
At the inauguration ceremony to celebrate the harnessing of the sun’s energy, Abramowitz harnessed the support of public figures as diverse as Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau and rapper-turned-yeshiva student Shyne.
Before he was an eco-entrepreneur, Abramowitz was a student activist who fought for the rights of South African blacks and Ethiopian Jews.
He has also been a candidate in the last two Knesset elections: First for the Ethiopian-interest party Atid Echad, which he co-founded, and then on the Green Movement-Meimad ticket, carrying the banner for the environment and for Jewish values.
Susan Weiss - Center for Women’s Justice
Life for Israeli agunot has gotten a little easier since New York native Susan Weiss founded the Center for Women’s Justice to help women whose husbands refuse to grant them a bill of divorce.
Religious courts often fail to force husbands to give their wives a religious divorce, known in Hebrew as a get, preventing them from remarrying.
But Weiss, a lawyer who moved to Jerusalem in 1980, changed the game entirely − by suing recalcitrant husbands for damages. In 2004, she won NIS 425,000 for a woman who’s husband refused to grant a divorce for eight years.
Since then Weiss, 56, filed some 40 such cases − one currently being discussed by the Supreme Court.
“We’re changing a husband’s refusal to give a [religious divorce] from a religious right to a civil wrong,” she said.
Joel Katz, a leading observer of religion and state issues, called her “one of the unsung heroes in the fight for women’s rights in Israel,” stressing her “tenacity in seeking − and achieving − long-term strategic change, rather than just settling for minor victories.”
Yaakov Litzman — Health Ministry
Born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the Holocaust, Yaakov Litzman moved to Brooklyn at the age of 2 and then moved to Israel at age 17.
As leader of ultra-Orthodox political party United Torah Judaism since 1999, he is one of the most powerful Haredi politicians in the country.
Litzman currently serves as deputy health minister, though he runs the ministry for all intents and purposes.
In the Knesset, Litzman fights for issues important to his religious community, such as free dental care for children under 6, which secured recently.
When ancient graves were found during excavations for a new rocket-proof emergency ward in Ashdod’s Barzilai Medical Center, Litzman blocked continued construction.
Litzman has also initiated several housing projects for the ultra-Orthodox public in cities around the country, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ashdod.
Vivian Silver — Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development
While Bedouin leaders fume at the government’s recent decision to relocate tens of thousands of their brethren from unrecognized villages in the south into communities with an official status, the nonprofit of a Winnipeg native helps to build bridges.
Vivian Silver, the co-director of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, affects the lives of literally thousands of people. This year alone, the institute had 645 volunteers − including Jewish and Bedouin students − conduct a number of various educational and social enrichment programs in which some 7,200 children and youths participated.
This fall, the institute will start training community employment coordinators to help create a joint industrial park, which constitutes the Negev’s first major Arab-Jewish development partnership.
This June, Silver, who moved to Israel in 1974 and is a member of Kibbutz Beeri, received the Institute of International Education’s 2011 Prize for Peace in the Middle East.
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