By Maayan Hoffman
(AUGUST 22, 2022 / JNS) In 1949, shortly after the founding of the State of Israel, Montreal-born Dov Yosef, a graduate of McGill University law school, became Israel’s first Canadian Knesset member and minister.
Seventy-three years later, Montreal-born Dan Illouz has secured the “immigrant” slot on the Likud Party list and hopes to follow in Yosef’s footsteps.
With Likud currently polling at 32-35 seats and Illouz placed 33rd on the list, his chances of entering parliament are high following Israel’s November 1 elections.
Even more so if the Likud sits in the next governing coalition, as the so-called Norwegian Law allows for those who are appointed ministers to transfer their Knesset seats to other party members placed lower down on the electoral list.
If the 36-year-old Jerusalemite makes it in, he will become the first Likud party member born and raised in Canada and the fourth Canadian to enter parliament.
In addition to Yosef, there have been two other Canadian parliamentarians: Michal Cotler-Wunsh, who was born in Jerusalem and moved to Canada at the age of eight and is the daughter of Canadian politician Irwin Cotler; and Sharren Haskel, who was born in Canada and moved to Israel as a one-year-old.
For his part, Illouz, born to Moroccan parents, spent his early years in Montreal involved in the local Jewish community until, following his graduation from McGill, he decided to make aliyah at the age of 23. He then joined the IDF, completed his master’s degree in public policy at Hebrew University, and worked in a number of jobs in support of the Jewish state. This included stints at the Foreign Ministry, as an adviser to former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, as vice president of partnerships at jgive.com, and holding a seat on the Jerusalem City Council.
“I think it is important that there’s an open door [for immigrants] to someone who can understand them,” Illouz told JNS two days after winning the reserved “immigrant” slot over several former parliamentarians, including Russian and Ethiopian candidates with larger bases in Israel.
“This is the first time we have had an Anglo winning this spot,” Illouz continued, “and I think it’s important.”
The primary was held on August 10; nearly 80,000 people cast a ballot, or 58 percent of eligible voters.
Illouz said he has already been in touch with a number of Anglo and French organizations—Illouz is also fluent in French—such as Nefesh B’Nefesh and Yad L’Olim, and is hopeful he is now better positioned to help them achieve their goals.
Illouz believes that the Anglo community supported him not only because he speaks English, but because he speaks to their core values and ideology.
“The principles that brought me to make aliyah are the same principles that brought them to make aliyah, and they are the same principles that push me to stay in public service,” Illouz told JNS.
These principles include a love of the Land of Israel and a belief that all of it, including the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, belongs to the Jewish people.
Illouz also advocates for a free-market economy and aims to reduce bureaucracy in Israel.
He said that if someone like him had been in the Knesset during the COVID-19 pandemic, they could have fought for immigrant rights by ensuring that the skies stayed open to new olim and to the family members of those already living in Israel.
“There was not enough response from the government because there weren’t enough people who understood that it was even a problem,” Illouz said. “Israelis did not understand it because they were not in close touch with the people for whom it was a problem.”
More than 25% of the Israeli population is composed of immigrants, according to a recent report by the OECD. However, only around 2% of Israelis speak English as their native language.
While Likud is the only party in Israel since 1992 to regularly elect its chair and Knesset candidates in primaries, it is often portrayed in Israeli media as a corrupt amalgamation of dealmakers.
Illouz said that the picture painted was just an illusion and that “these primaries show how strong ideology is in the Likud at the end of the day. The Likud is its members, and when we see who the members decide to reward, we see that they reward people with a very strong ideology,” he added.
In this respect, Illouz noted that MK Yariv Levin won the first available spot on the list—that is, the second position as the top spot is reserved for the party leader—someone whom “no one would ever consider corrupt.
“If the media try to portray Likud as having people who scream a lot, [Levin] is the exact opposite. He’s very clear on his views, very ideological … but very moderate in the way he communicates those views,” Illouz said.
However, Likud critics have noted Levin’s threats to reshape what he considers an unaccountable legal establishment, and say he placed so well because he is viewed as Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest ally.
Indeed, Illouz defended the choice to keep Netanyahu as party chief despite the former longstanding prime minister’s ongoing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Illouz said Israelis should be proud to live in a country where a person is considered innocent until proven guilty.
Moreover, he believes that the cases against Netanyahu “are very weak.”
“I don’t know what will happen in court because I am not a prophet, but the expectation in the public is that the cases are slowly falling apart. And the world can see it also,” Illouz said, adding: “I think Netanyahu is one of the most respected leaders internationally and his being prime minister will only help us to accomplish more.”
This article was originally published in JNS and can be viewed here.