Koolanu leader Moshe Kahlon on Thursday unveiled the party’s campaign and diverse candidates for the top 11 spots on his list.
The first seven slots were filled by candidates Kahlon had already announced. After Kahlon himself came Maj.- Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, former head of the IDF’s Southern Command; former Israel Broadcast Authority manager Tsega Melaku (whose eligibility to run is in question over a technical question); former ambassador to the US Michael Oren; Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria; War on Poverty Committee chairman Eli Alalouf; and education expert Dr. Yifat Sassa-Biton.
He filled the following four slots with new candidates starting with Eli Cohen, an accountant and VP of the Israel Land Development Company; Roy Volkman, a founder of the Jerusalem revitalization NGO New Spirit; Tel Aviv city councilwoman Meirav Ben-Ari; and former Zim Integrated Shipping Services CEO Shai Babad.
Koolanu said it was aiming to have women comprise roughly half of its Knesset candidates list, but only four appeared in the top 11 spots. The list did have strong ethnic diversity, however, with an abundance of candidates with roots in the Middle East and North Africa.
Prof. Shalom Saada Saar, a leadership expert who lectures at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined the party as a high-level consultant.
“Koolanu is here because the country belongs to ‘all of us’ [‘Koolanu’],” Kahlon said, reiterating the three main goals his party would fight for: solving the housing crisis, lowering the cost of living, and reducing social gaps.
A former communications and welfare minister for the Likud, Kahlon said his old party had abandoned the social causes that compelled him to join it in the first place. The country’s leaders owed citizens explanations as to why the cost of living was getting higher and gaps were growing, he said.
“Yair Lapid got a great and rare opportunity, 19 mandates [for Yesh Atid in the previous election]. Friends, with that kind of power you can change the lives of the nation’s citizens,” he said.
“The Likud abandoned. Lapid disappointed. This is the time for a new path,” Kahlon said, summarizing the main bases from which he hoped to draw voters.
“Don’t let them confuse you. The upcoming election is not between Left and Right. It is between leaders who care and leaders who don’t care,” he said. “The big parties, the monopolies, the pressure groups, prefer us to believe that the election is between Left and Right. You know why? Because it serves them.”
Koolanu, he promised, would serve the interests of the workers, and was in favor of a free market that was socially conscious.
“Friends, to making money: Yes! To greed: No,” he said.
In a media blitz on Wednesday, Kahlon unveiled the party’s positions on several other issues, and made clear that his ambition was to be finance minister. He said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was currently not a partner for peace, Jerusalem would have to remain united, and that he was not opposed to same-sex marriage.
Though the party’s focus is socioeconomic, Kahlon brought Galant on to represent security interests and Oren on to inform diplomatic issues.
On Wednesday, Oren discussed his approach to the Palestinian problem with a group of young professionals in Jaffa, which The Jerusalem Post recorded exclusively for its weekly Frontlines Podcast.
“We all want the same thing, we want an Israel that is strong, an Israel that is democratic, an Israel that is Jewish, we want an Israel that is economically prosperous.
Peace is the means for achieving that goal. Peace is not an end in itself,” he said.
In the absence of a Palestinian leader willing or able to negotiate a deal with Israel, it is up to Israel to take the initiative, Oren argued “In the West Bank today there is de facto Palestinian sovereignty over large segments of the territory,” he said. “There is in existence what is in essence a two-state situation. Not a two-state solution, but a two-state situation. It is not formal. I say take this situation and strengthen it. Make it better.”
Without closing the door to a negotiated deal, Israel should work out ways to improve the lives of Palestinians such as increasing freedom of travel and improving trade, he said.
The Netanyahu government was not doing enough to take the initiative at a time when Palestinians were advancing their cause in the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, he said.
Oren said Israel should focus its settlement building on blocs that everyone knows will remain part of Israel, and cited the 2004 letter from US president George W. Bush to prime minister Ariel Sharon as the legal basis for this. By focusing on those areas alone, he said, Israel “broadcasts to the world our seriousness of the openness of that door” to a final-status agreement. Asked about policies that give preferential support to settlers, however, he said that while all citizens should get benefits and opportunities, they should not get them “at the expense of anybody else.”
Oren slammed Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett’s plan to put large swathes of the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.
“Annexing of Area C brings an immediate international embargo on the State of Israel, and I’ll tell you unequivocally, it will not be acceptable to both [legislative] houses and both parties, so it’s also going to be a major problem for our relationship with the United States,” he said.
He dismissed notions that Israel should seek an alternative to the US as its main backer.
“Anybody who thinks there’s a substitute for America as Israel’s supreme ally is deluding themselves. There is no substitute.”
Asked what Israel should do if the US and Iran struck a “bad deal” in nuclear negotiations, Oren said: “Any deal that leaves Iran with the ability to achieve and break out of a nuclear capability poses a severe threat to the State of Israel, and Israel has the right, the duty and the capability to defend itself.”