Meteoric rise of the girl from Finchley walking Jerusalem's corridors of power

Keren Hajioff rose through the ranks from speaking not a word of Hebrew to an advisor to two prime ministers


She is a special advisor to Israel’s new prime minister Yair Lapid and acted in the same role for his predecessor, Naftali Bennett.

But Keren Hajioff grew up far from Jerusalem’s corridors of power, in a north London Orthodox Jewish family. And she attributes her success to the values they instilled in her.

Speaking to the JC, Ms Hajioff said she had “honoured and humbled” to have been entrusted with her duties. “I take great pride in coming from such a strong and vibrant Jewish community in the UK and am grateful to it for having shaped me into the person I am today. Serving the State of Israel will forever be a privilege.”

A friend of the 32-year-old told the JC: “Keren gives a lot of credit for her success to the values instilled in her by her family, her community, and particularly her grandmother, who is just the best.”

Ms Hajioff rose through the ranks of first the military and then diplomatic services after arriving in Israel at the age of 19, hardly speaking a word of Hebrew.

The “proud granddaughter of Iranian Jewish refugees”, as she describes herself, was raised in Finchley. She attended the local United Synagogue with her family, went to Hasmonean High School and was in Bnei Akiva.

It was during a Federation of Zionist Youth gap year program in Israel in 2009 that she decided to ditch plans to return to London, instead volunteering to join the Israel Defence Force (IDF) as a “lone soldier”.

Though she spoke very little Hebrew, Ms Hajioff memorised the answers to questions she thought she would be asked in her interview. She was able to recognise key words and give her prepared replies, earning her admission to training.

Eventually taking on the role of instructor at the Artillery School, she set her heart on becoming an officer. Overcoming the initial reluctance of her commanders, she joined Officer School less than a year after joining up, far earlier than normal.

Now she faced a new challenge: learning by heart 200 pages or so of military text that every trainee officer must memorise. Hardly able to struggle through the first page, she turned to her host family, who organised a rota of volunteers to teach her the material as she worked unceasingly. Her triumphant reward came when she came not only top of the class, but ahead of every other cadet in the training school.

After a spell as a commander in the Officer Training School, the now high-flying Ms Hajioff was moved to a foreign relations role. She was then part of the IDF spokespersons unit during the 2014 Gaza War, before becoming Head of Public Diplomacy in 2016, and Head of Social Media in 2018.

Under her leadership, IDF online reach representing Israel on the global stage surged 30-fold. Tweets from her team ended up on the front page of the New York Times.

Next she took on one of the most prestigious roles in the IDF media: spokesperson of the Northern Command, responsible for the border with Syria and Lebanon.

In September 2021 came a text message which took her career on a new path. Would she like to be considered for the post of International Spokesperson for Prime Minster Naftali Bennett?

After just a five-minute interview, she got the job, one that she’d hoped for by the age of 40. She was 32.

In May, she ascended still further. One Friday night, the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs resigned. The following evening, Ms Hajioff had a WhatsApp message from the prime minister himself, asking her to step into the role.

With the collapse of the governing coalition in June, she was asked to stay on as International Spokesperson by newly installed caretake prime minister Yair Lapid, cementing her position at the heart of government.

Last year, she told Jewish website Aish how the late Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks inspired her.

She said: “Rabbi Sacks advised, ‘Where what you want to do meets what needs to be done, this is how a person can seek to fulfil their own personal mission in this world’. That has always stayed with me.”

It is a philosophy that the girl from Finchley has embraced all the way through her remarkable ascent.

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