Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) seems to have undergone a political
transformation from Kadima MK to someone whose views “match those of the Likud
much more than [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s,” as he said in an
interview with The Jerusalem Post this week.
After winning election to
the 17th Knesset in 2006 with Kadima, he quit two years later for the Likud, won
a seat in the 18th Knesset, and has become a major power player as the chairman
of the Likud faction and the coalition. His current role allows him to determine
the coalition’s agenda, and work toward passing the bills the government
As Elkin explains it, he began his political career on the
Right, and is “the only Knesset member who lives in a caravan” in Gush Etzion.
He didn’t change, he says – Kadima did.
“Kadima went through a dramatic
process,” he elaborates. “They began as a Center-Right party based mostly on
former Likud members. Then they moved from Center-Left to hard Left. [Kadima
leader Tzipi] Livni removed the right-wing DNA of most of the MKs in
Elkin cites examples of political bullying by his former party’s
leadership, saying that Livni “talks a lot about democracy, but there is no
democracy in Kadima.”
The Likud MK also questions Kadima’s internal
politics, saying that Livni’s defeat of MK Shaul Mofaz in the party’s last
primary “was never properly investigated.”
“The party’s legal authorities
conspired with Livni’s people and prevented a fair decision from being made,”
Elkin said. “It’s no wonder that a bill establishing a comptroller to monitor
party primaries was sponsored by Kadima MKs.”
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In addition, Elkin – who,
according to a study by hawkish organization Mattot Arim from earlier this year,
is the Knesset’s most right-wing member – says that “there are a lot of
right-wing bills that were backed by Kadima MKs, but when there was criticism on
the Left, Livni forced MKs to remove their names or abstain from votes they
One example is the Boycott Bill, which Elkin
The law, which was discussed in the Knesset by the
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee this week, allows citizens to bring
civil suits against people and organizations that call for boycotts against
“When the bill was more extreme, and made calling for a boycott a
criminal offense, Dalia Itzik and other Kadima MKs sponsored it,” Elkin
explains, “but when there was criticism from the press, especially Haaretz
Livni made them remove their signatures.”
He adds that “there’s a lot of
hypocrisy surrounding this bill,” and cites Kadima MKs who charged that it would
limit freedom of expression.
“I am for freedom of expression, but
individual freedoms don’t give anyone the right to harm someone else. Boycotts
harm people,” he asserts. “I fight for the right of people to say what they
think, even if they are criticizing our policies in Judea and Samaria, but it’s
different if they say to harm someone because they live in Judea and
The boycott bill is just one of many instances in which Kadima
“is competing with Meretz,” Elkin says. “A lot of Kadima MKs complain about it
He notes that “when I joined Kadima, they were opposed to
dividing Jerusalem. Now we know that both Livni and [former prime minister Ehud]
Olmert negotiated the division of Jerusalem.”
Elkin adds: “According to
Kadima’s platform, they’re against going back to the ’67 borders, but when the
prime minister was in the US, Livni and Mofaz attacked him” for opposing US
President Barack Obama’s calls for negotiations based on pre-1967
“Livni has come a long way from preaching about keeping Jerusalem
united and leaving all the [settlement] blocs in Israel,” he says.
he left Kadima, Elkin himself faced the wrath of its leadership over his
right-wing views: “I ran into problems with Olmert on diplomatic issues
immediately. I also opposed [Kadima candidate] Shimon Peres for president,
because of the Oslo Accords. The director-general of Kadima was sent to attack
me, which isn’t legal.”
The Likud MK has continued to face off against
party leaders when it comes to the peace process.
These days, Elkin, who
is one of the leaders of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, says Netanyahu
should remember his past views.
“Everything Netanyahu said in the past
about why there shouldn’t be a Palestinian state is still correct. His
speech to the Likud central committee [in 2002] against [then-prime minister
Ariel] Sharon’s plan for a Palestinian state was brilliant,” he says.
views match those of the Likud MKs and platform more than Netanyahu’s,” he
“There is a wide majority in the Likud against a Palestinian
However, he says that despite disagreements over Palestinian
statehood, the most important issue at hand is the pre-1967 lines and dividing
Jerusalem, which “Netanyahu and the entire Likud” oppose.
is theoretical,” Elkin contends. “The Palestinians would never accept less than
pre-’67 borders with minor adjustments, but how could we give up on settlement?
The idea is awful. Israel must stand up to international pressure for pre-1967
That international pressure includes the United
“I am sure [President Barack] Obama’s people did not think a
foreign leader would speak out against him the day before a meeting, but the
fact that Netanyahu did led Obama to moderating his position.
important that Netanyahu’s line was clear,” the coalition chairman says,
referring to the prime minister’s last trip to the US.
mistakes from the start, due to his own ideologies,” he adds. “Obama tried to
impose his views and did not respect the decision of Israeli voters,” in
insisting on a settlement construction freeze after a right-wing government was
ELKIN SAYS the current government’s election can be seen as a
referendum on the Annapolis conference, with which the public clearly did not
“On the one hand, the Obama administration abandoned its ally
Mubarak because it claimed this was what the people wanted – even though there
weren’t any elections in Egypt. Here, in a fair election, the people chose the
Right, and he tried to force leftist policies on the Israeli people,” he
“Obama showed lack of experience and madea rookie’s mistakes,”
he continues. “The current lack of a peace process is because he demanded a
building freeze, even though there was no such thing in 16 years of
At the same time, Elkin doesn’t see the Likud as intrinsically
linked to the Republican Party in the US.
“On the economy and Islamic
terror, our views are closer to the Republicans’ in recent years,” he says.
“While there are Likud MKs tied to Republican politicians or donors, we also
have a lot of ties to Democrats.”
He cites Netanyahu’s speech to
Congress, saying that “the proof that we’re bipartisan is that both parties
applauded him. When there is pressure on Obama to defend Israel and not take the
Palestinians’ side, it often comes from Democrats.”
Elkin would like
Israel to be more like the US in at least one way: He and fellow Likud MK Yariv
Levin submitted a bill that would enact a five-day work week with Sundays
“It’s natural for me, because I come from a place where we had
Sundays free,” the Kharkov, Ukraine, native says. He adds that the bill has the
support of many immigrants from the former USSR and English- speaking
Whether the bill passes before the current Knesset session
ends or not, Elkin is confident that the change is unavoidable.
population changes, Shabbat-observant people will eventually be a majority among
the Jews in the country,” he says. “The fact that they are not participating as
consumers in the shopping, cultural and sports events that take place on
weekends could harm these economic sectors in the future if Sundays do not
become a day off. I think it’s inevitable that this will pass, if not now, then
in a few years.”
Elkin notes that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky
and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein initiated the idea as members of the now-defunct
Israel Ba’aliya Party. Vice Premier Silvan Shalom has garnered support for the
bill from business leaders and religious parties, Elkin says, but Netanyahu and
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have yet to give an official position on the
In other economic issues, Elkin presents a two-part vision of
increasing competition in the market while helping the weakest members of
In reference to the issue of cottage cheese prices, which has
dominated Knesset discussions in recent weeks, Elkin scoffs at “political
hypocrisy on this matter.”
“Kadima never checked who was responsible for
the rise in prices. A quick Google search proved it was [former party MK
Avraham] Hirchson who removed the regulation of cottage cheese prices,” he says.
“This just proves how amateurish Kadima MKs really are.”
that “in Israel, two or three companies control everything. They may not be an
actual cartel, where the bosses call each other to set prices, but the fact that
there are so few choices ends up having the same effect.”
chairman recommends raising production limits, and supports Netanyahu’s and
Steinitz’s suggestion of opening the dairy market to imports.
the second part of his economic vision, Elkin is working on the prime minister’s
housing bill, which Netanyahu has deemed his priority for the Knesset’s summer
The proposed bill is an emergency building plan that would
bypass bureaucracy to allow for the speedy construction of apartments. The
increase in housing options would lower prices, so young couples would be able
to affordably buy homes, Elkin explains.
“It won’t be easy for Netanyahu
to advance his emergency plan, but it’s very, very important to stop housing
prices from continuing to rise. I will work to pass it by the end of the summer
term [August 7],” he states.
“This bill affects me personally, because
the government authorized the building plan for my community [Kfar Eldad in Gush
Etzion]. Maybe I won’t have to live in a caravan anymore,” he says. “My house’s
construction was frozen. I’ve been waiting 10 years to build it.”
recalls with a smile the times that he has shown American politicians his
caravan, and asked if any Congressmen lived the way he does.
housing bill passes, it will increase construction throughout the country, but
Elkin says he hopes it will help the West Bank.
“There is hardly any
construction in the cities and local councils in Judea and Samaria. We need to
build,” he says, adding, “I never understood why it was considered an important
gesture to the Palestinians for us not to build homes and schools.”
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