Yisrael Beytenu candidate Sharon Gal was in a good mood as he had lunch in the Knesset cafeteria Thursday afternoon – after all, the Central Elections Committee had just accepted his party’s petition and voted in favor of disqualifying MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) from running for the next Knesset.
Gal took a vocal part in the proceedings, presenting his party’s arguments as the journalist who was interviewing Zoabi on his morning radio show when she said last summer’s kidnapping of three teens by Hamas was not terrorism and pointing to her participation in the 2010 Gaza flotilla. Then, when Zoabi spoke, he interjected with cries of “She belongs in jail” and “She is Hamas,” leading an usher to restrain him.
“I’m very satisfied,” Gal, 40, said over schnitzel and mashed potatoes, already dressed like a Knesset member in a charcoal gray suit. “I understand it’s the first step and there will be another round.”
Gal, who used to wear a yarmulke but no longer does, said “with God’s help, the High Court will take into consideration the critical mass of Zoabi’s statements and actions and disqualify her.”
Zoabi and her ilk were part of what Gal said inspired him to jump from journalism – he is the former host of Channel 10’s Economic Night, had daily programs on Radio Tel Aviv and TV Channel 20 – to politics, and specifically to Yisrael Beytenu, where he is fifth on the list.
“I wanted to have more of an influence in areas like this, like today, and there is no better political home than Yisrael Beytenu to act against incitement to terrorism... to protect democracy, we need a clear redline in where freedom of expression becomes freedom of debasement,” he said.
“I was comfortable in the media. I made a lot of money, but I decided to sacrifice personal comfort for public action in the long term and I hope to be a public servant for long time,” Gal said, predicting that the party will get 16 seats, though it has polled at only five or six in recent weeks.
The former journalist was unperturbed by investigations of graft allegations among senior party officials, pointing out that no one from Yisrael Beytenu has ever been convicted of corruption.
Gal referred to his personal experience, having been investigated on suspicion of sexual harassment and dismissed from Economic Night, in reference to the probe of members of his party.
“I was a victim of slander and was butchered by the media, and it ended in nothing. I suffered a lot,” he recounted. “We should protect people’s good names. In a democratic country, people can only be convicted by the courts.”
Gal said that this investigation into Yisrael Beytenu will end “with the mountain turning out to be a molehill, like the previous time” and expressed faith that “the public is smart and understands that.”
Though Gal is well-known among Israelis for hosting an economic news program, he didn’t focus on those issues, saying only “I will be a messenger of the middle class and weaker sectors, where I grew up” with the last name Algawi in Tirat Carmel, and “if I contribute all I can in any area, especially socioeconomic, I’ll be happy, but it’s early to talk about that.”
Gal is focusing most of his energies on Yisrael Beytenu’s policies dealing with Israeli Arabs, and explained that his goal was to continue its efforts to ensure that citizenship is tied to loyalty to the state.
He proudly pointed to the “Nakba Law” his party passed, which allows the government to divest from any organization that marks Israel’s establishment as a tragedy.
“There is a lot of work, and I want to be part of this mission so that people like Zoabi will not be able in to be in the Knesset and will go to jail for terrorism and incitement,” the candidate said.
Gal also enthusiastically supported Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s declared goal to be the next defense minister, saying “things will be quieter and I’ll sleep better at night” if the now-foreign minister gets the coveted portfolio.
“The time has come to not just contain terrorism by Hamas and Hezbollah. The next round with Hamas is only a matter of time, and I hope Liberman will be defense minister so it’ll be the last round,” he stated.
Gal commended Liberman for what he said was the latter’s unwavering stances on cardinal issues: “He doesn’t zigzag or stutter. His word is his bond, and that’s why I’m in his framework [Yisrael Beytenu].”
When asked about statements that made it seem as though Yisrael Beytenu may join a coalition led by the Zionist Union, Gal said, “Liberman said clearly that we won’t be in a left-wing government, with ten exclamation points.”
When asked again, about any government led by the Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog, Gal repeated himself, adding “the foreign minister doesn’t zigzag.”
Gal was also instrumental in the party’s protests against bookstore chain Steimatzky not selling the “survivors issue” of Charlie Hebdo after Arab MKs sent complaint letters. The Central Elections Committee banned Yisrael Beytenu from distributing the magazine, and the party appealed to the High Court, which will hold a hearing on the matter next week.
“We oppose insulting any religion. We need to respect everyone – Muslim, Christian and Jew,” Gal said.
However, not selling or distributing the magazine is capitulation to terrorism, he added, quoting MK Masud Gnaim (UAL) as saying he would not be responsible for what happens if anyone does so.
“That is a threat of terrorism,” Gal emphasized. “We need to differentiate tolerance and freedom from incitement and threats. That is where we take a stand. It cannot be that the inciters will tell us what freedom of expression means.”