MK Ruth Wasserman Lande, Israel’s Force for Economic Equality
Ruth Wasserman Lande was born in Israel and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. She joined Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Jan. 8, 2021, and was forced out four days later when a government minister from her Blue and White party resigned and returned to the Knesset under the Norwegian law. Three weeks later she returned to Knesset when a party lawmaker left to join another party.
She currently serves as a member of eight Knesset committees: House; Finance; Economic Affairs; Constitution, Law and Justice; State Control; Labor, Welfare and Health; the Special Committee on the Novel Coronavirus and for Examining the State’s Preparations for Epidemics and Earthquakes; and the Special Committee on Eradicating Crime in Arab Society. In addition, she is an alternate member of the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Wasserman Lande served as an Israeli diplomat in the Foreign Ministry for 13 years, was an adviser to the late President Shimon Peres, and was deputy director-general of the Israeli Federation of Local Governments for nearly a decade. She runs her own strategic local and global consultancy. She is also the founder and chair of the “Hagshama” initiative, a nonprofit and nonpolitical NGO that has transformed a Bedouin village in the north of the country into a model community. She is a columnist in Hebrew in the Israeli daily Maariv and in English in The Jerusalem Post. She also serves as an analyst on local and international news broadcasts.
Wasserman Lande spoke with The Media Line’s Felice Friedson about her work in the diplomatic corps, as an adviser to the president, and in local government, as well as her vision for the country and the region.
The Media Line: Congratulations on your seat in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
Wasserman Lande: Thank you!
TML: What are your plans?
Wasserman Lande: The unity of the people in my country is a huge passion for me. That’s first and foremost. Secondly, minorities in terms of the Arab sector in Israel, the Arab society. I speak Arabic. I have lived in an Arab country for three years as a senior diplomat. I feel that my Zionism, my love for my country, one of the main expressions thereof is the fact that all people within the country will be living as one. And now that we’ve achieved something amazing, game-changing regionally, the Abraham Accords, it almost seems as if the pressure is off of countries like Egypt, Jordan and so on, because there’s a role model. It shows that it is in fact possible to live together.
TML: You were stationed in Egypt. You were there for several years. You stated that you speak fluent Arabic. It was a cold peace. It is not where we are today, between the Emiratis and the Israelis and the same thing with Bahrainis.
Wasserman Lande: Not at all.
TML: Why would that change?
Wasserman Lande: First of all, I was there for three whole years as an Israeli, a Jewish woman, not yet married at the time. So, I was more or less the epitome of all evil. It was eye-opening for me, living, breathing, smelling, touching the people makes you understand something that you cannot understand from even studying books or a language. So, on the one hand, there was no warm peace, but on the other hand, it took all the weight against all of the other Arab countries. It will take time. Why will it take time? Because for decades, Egypt has taught its people that Israel is the enemy. This has not changed. The people, the actual nation, the Egyptian amazing nation, it didn’t trickle down. They didn’t feel it. The books did not mirror this kind of an agreement and the antagonism was and remains quite strong against Israel.
TML: Let’s look inward. Lod, you lived there a long time.
Wasserman Lande: Yes!
TML: It’s the city of immense poverty. It’s a mixed city. Looking at Israel in terms of Lod as a prototype. How did you feel that you were able to help shape change there?
Wasserman Lande: OK. Lod is a city which is very close to my heart. My husband and I, and our children live there. It is in fact, a city which knows a lot of poverty throughout the years. Really very many immigrants have arrived – Russians Ethiopians, [and] Moroccans. It is a mixed city, both Arab and Jewish and Christian. There’s a Christian minority there as well. Very, very important for the Christian world in terms of the Greek Orthodox Church, in which St. George is buried.
TML: President Shimon Peres very much stood for unity of all Israelis. You worked with him. You helped to advise him. You witnessed so many things. What is the one thing that you walked away from that experience in your lifetime that you think back and say that had a tremendous mark on what I’m doing today?
Wasserman Lande: So, I think it’s a little bit strange to me always to say that I advised Shimon Peres. It’s almost like saying… He knew so much about everything. He was an autodidact and he was always advising me on everything in life rather than the opposite, but I did have the privilege of serving as his adviser in the presidency. I would say that nothing but nothing is impossible. That was his mantra.
TML: You were a deputy director for the Federation of Local Governments and then you also went on and you created your own consultancy firm working with government officials both here in Israel and abroad. How do you see those things coming together?
Wasserman Lande: I got to know the real unbelievable myriad of people within this country and the processes of local governance. How it connects with the central government and so on. A true learning experience. Engines of growth and sustainable engines of growth, allowing for employment opportunities, and so on…
TML: Give me an example.
Wasserman Lande: So, one beautiful example is in the regional council of Al Batuf. Al-Batuf is a relatively unknown regional cancel; Arab with four villages: two Bedouin villages and two non-Bedouin Muslim. Everybody in that municipality, all the inhabitants are Muslim. Socioeconomically, it is a rather poor place with low income for most of the inhabitants. One of the villages is an absolutely unbelievably beautiful place called Wadi Hamam. It is just, just under the Arbel mountain with a beautiful source of water, mountains, really a picturesque place that seriously very few people know. And one thing that I’ve worked on together with the leadership, the local leadership together with the community, together with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, together with the Israeli Ministry of Economy and so on and philanthropists, is creating a sustainable source of income in that same village for the municipality and for the people themselves. In other words, creating a Bedouin souk. In other words, exporting, if you wish, the culture, the Bedouin culture, allowing local women to work in the place, creating a sort of ownership process.
TML: Ruth, you know, as we are speaking on this program, we spoke earlier about the Palestinian elections. Here we are. [We] never thought we’d be [going] into a fourth election this time around. And Israel has some serious problems. There are issues of deep poverty, despite the startup nation. There are issue issues still where women aren’t where they should be, even this in this democracy. If you had a short list, what would it be?
Wasserman Lande: I want to begin with the fact that I absolutely love my country. I think that this is a safe haven for the Jewish peoplehood and as such, it needs in my humble opinion to be a viable, sustainable, I would say compassionate, safe haven for all the people within it. This is something that I’ve done before I came into the Knesset. Something that I will continue doing inside the Israeli parliament. We have COVID throughout the world, poverty, we have small and medium-sized businesses closing. Every couple of meters there’s a business closing. Families, and you mentioned women. You know, I believe that people within themselves and especially women have a strength, an inner strength, a light. After all, we are mothers, we are nurturers.
I’m not naive. I’ve spent three years in an Arab country with 100 million Egyptians that not all of them wanted me there. There needs to be a leadership, a brave courageous leadership, and I hope that this leadership will incorporate more women that will allow us to expose our light, share our capabilities, bring our nurturing selves for the betterment of society. Not just words for me. This is my life.
TML: You were in the Israeli army in intelligence.
Wasserman Lande: Yes!
TML: Do you miss those days?
Wasserman Lande: Yes, it was also a stepping-stone in my career and in my development in general, and I think that this, unfortunately, is still a strong and necessary inherent part of Israeli society given the continued threat that exists for the State of Israel in the region and abroad. I particularly put my eyes currently on Iran but not only.
TML: You speak five languages. You have a master’s from Harvard [University] and you raised three children. Many women would say, I can’t juggle life as a wife, a mother, and a career. What do you say?
Wasserman Lande: Well, I think you should ask my children that, if I’m doing a good job or not. But I’m loving every moment. I’m a multitasker. I’m trying to keep sane in between, especially now when Israel is showcasing its ability to lock down again and again. It’s not an easy feat always.
TML: Well, I’ve been happy to showcase you on this segment.
Wasserman Lande: Thank you.
See the latest episode of Facing the Middle East With Felice Friedson here.