Connecting People with Policymakers
Orly Benny Davis doesn't just "follow" the news, passively watching CNN or reading lifeless words on a page. Rather, she collects and analyzes information, learning first-hand of events as they transpire and perhaps even playing a part in the outcome. What to others is an isolated headline, to Orly is just one strand in a complex tapestry of happenings, the living fabric of global affairs.
I went to lunch with Orly on a recent afternoon, hoping to gain a measure of understanding regarding something I know very little about: politics. This remarkable woman, Israeli by birth and American by selection, began her political life at the tender age of four when her mother took little Orly to her first political rally. By the time she was 11, she "sensed the forces we were fighting" every time she woke up to the sound of war planes passing overhead. At age 13, she met the president of Israel; and by 15, she had relocated to Rome where she learned to speak Italian with gusto-just one of six languages in which Orly can comfortably converse.
Now she lives in Bluffton and has an impressive list of accomplishments under her name, including running for U.S. Senate and starting a political consulting firm called Pomegranate-not to mention raising four children. But I knew it would take more words than I was allotted to describe every notable thing she'd ever done; so I turned my attentions to learning about her motivations.
"What people do on the hill impacts my life, your life and the global picture," she said. "We want to be involved with good policy, because it influences the way we live on a personal level. We should not be careless, because caring will prevent mistakes in future generations."
And care she does, as evidenced by her involvement with charity organizations such as EZER, which raises money to help needy children in Israel, and her commitment to conflict resolution in the Middle East. Orly considers herself a kind of go-between who helps further understanding between people and policymakers, the individuals responsible for so many decisions that shape our society.
But still I found myself struggling to wrap my mind around her work; what exactly did she do? Then she told me a story. An Italian politician "came to his heart" one day and renounced his fascist views, saying that he wanted to be invited to Jerusalem as a friend and ally. For three years, the Israelis denied him, until one day Italian lobbyists called Orly on his behalf, hoping she could use her influence to secure the man's good standing. She began making calls to high-ranking government officials in Israel who told her to stay out of it ("They can't order me, I don't work for them!") until several months later her persistence paid off-the former fascist received a direct invitation from the ambassador and later became the Italian foreign minister.
"He's a very nice man," said Orly, with her exotic accent and disarmingly warm smile. "Now he's number two to the prime minister."
As I was trying to imagine Orly chatting amicably with foreign ministers on their personal cell phones, a group of Italians entered the restaurant (the chef's visiting family) and Orly began conversing enthusiastically with them in their native tongue. It was obvious this woman has a way with people. And in the United States, where any citizen is invited to participate in democratic government, Orly has plenty of chances to use it.
"The American system is really good because it's transparent," said Orly. "You have access to your policymakers like no place else in the world. The American system gives power to the people."
Hometown: Telaviv Came to the Lowcountry: in 1987 Hobbies: flying airplanes, reading Current read: Smart Women Finish Rich, by David Bach Proudest accomplishments: giving birth to four children and being a self-made politician Look for her: at the GOP office she's opening in Bluffton Motto: "In God I Trust"