Politics: Tourism Minister Uzi Landau leaves with principles intact

Tourism Minister Uzi Landau tells the ‘Post’ in a parting interview how he never gave in and why he admires Netanyahu for standing up before Congress and saying what he believes.

April 19, 2015 06:02
Uzi Landau


Israeli politicians come under tremendous pressure to change their minds and make concessions from their party leaders, the media and the international community.

That is why when a politician ends his career after decades of public service without compromising on the principles that guided him when he was first elected, it is a remarkable accomplishment.

Not too many politicians at either end of the political map can make that claim, though Yossi Sarid and the late Shulamit Aloni come to mind on the Left and Bennie Begin on the Right – though the latter is now back in politics.

Outgoing Tourism Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) first entered the Knesset in 1984 after being raised in a traditional Likud home, the son of former transportation minister Haim Landau, who was among the leaders of the Irgun, Herut and Likud. As soon as a new government is sworn in, Landau’s political career will be over, and he will leave with the same exact views as when he began.

Landau never voted to release terrorists from prison, boasting that he once flew back from Central America to vote against a prisoner release that was going to pass no matter how he voted. He never voted to withdraw from land, except for the very small territorial exchange in the peace treaty with Jordan.

In a parting interview, he says the peak of his career was in 2005 when he was the only Likud minister who got fired by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon for insisting on the Likud’s principles and opposing the withdrawal from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip.

“There are fundamental positions you promise your voters that you need to stick to,” he said. “I’m leaving parliamentary politics at peace with myself that I kept the principles I received from my father and mother and that I promised my voters I’d maintain. I stood up for my principles and did not concede.”

That loyalty to his views, plus the class he showed to his Knesset colleagues, earned him respect across the political map. When Aloni died in 2014, Meretz leader Zehava Gal- On asked Landau out of all people to speak at her memorial ceremony.

“I am proud to say that in my political history, I never leaked [confidential information],” he said. “I didn’t always say all of the truth, but I never lied or misled. And I always behaved with respect to political competitors.”

Lamenting over the result of the Gaza Strip disengagement, he said “all of our fears unfortunately came true,” and he apologizes for not succeeding in uniting Likud ministers against it.

While it was Sharon who fired Landau, his main failure during the disengagement is seen as not persuading then-finance minister and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take steps to prevent the withdrawal.

Landau described meeting Netanyahu for the first time shortly after the Yom Kippur War when they were both students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Landau, who headed the pro-Israel student organization, handed Netanyahu a leaflet, to which the future prime minister responded with advice on how to improve it.

“It was quite clear already then that he was an extraordinary man,” Landau said. “I invited him to a meeting, he came, had excellent ideas, and we became friends. Some blame me for bringing him to Likud, but I am proud of it. We stayed friends, even when we disagreed politically. He is a very gifted man. Sometimes we openly disagreed, but I still respect him very much.”

Landau said he wished more Israeli politicians had Netanyahu’s understanding of history and the destiny of the Jewish people. He praised the prime minister for proving he understand the role of an Israeli leader in his speech last month to Congress.

“I asked myself what a Jewish leader should have done in the 1930s when faced with the Munich Agreement [that caved in to the Nazis],” Landau said. “If invited to the British Parliament, would he say he might damage relations between him and the British leader, or would he go and explain the deep concern of the Jewish people in the face of Nazi Germany. It bothered me that all of our leaders did not join him and stand behind him.”

While he said he respected opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Landau compared the behavior of the Israeli opposition during the Congress speech to the politicians who accused prime minister Menachem Begin of playing politics when he ordered the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor ahead of the 1981 election.

Landau recalled Begin telling an American interviewer in the mid- 1970s while in the US: “In Israel I’m opposition leader. When I’m here I’m an ambassador of the Jewish state.”

Although he praises America’s relationship with Israel, he issues veiled criticism of US president Barack Obama and cautions against being burned again as Israel was when it received a commitment from then-president George W.

Bush to keep the settlement blocs in return for withdrawing from Gaza.

“A president can come with a different policy,” he warned. “A strong America leading the world assertively is an integral asset for Israel.

Arab leaders are saying now that the US is not a friend that can be trusted or an enemy to be feared.”

Landau complained about Israeli policies that have gradually made Israel incorrectly seem to the world like occupiers, noting that Winston Churchill told the Peel Commission that the real occupiers are the Arabs.

“This land belongs to us,” Landau said. “The Arabs in Judea and Samaria are a political problem to solve, but this is our political reality.

You’re not giving up land that does not belong to you. If you give up land, you have to feel as if you have to give up your hand to keep the rest of your body.”

Though Landau sat out the election, it clearly encouraged him to see Israelis move to the Right.

“The public in Israel said as clearly as possible that it realized we have no partner who wants to make peace or can impose it,” he said.

“Any land we withdraw from will be taken over by radical Islam. A Palestinian state would be a puppet state of Iran like Gaza [is]. Abbas can’t guarantee anything because he also faces threats from Hamas.

After what happened in Syria, Yemen and Gaza, why do people think it won’t happen in Judea and Samaria? Abbas who has been avoiding elections for five years, why would he out of all people stay in power?” When asked whether Israel should have a dovish foreign minister to explain its policies abroad, Landau made clear he preferred someone on the Right.

“We need to have the person who heads our foreign policy not be a man who the public chose to stay in the opposition,” he said. “The best PR guy for Israel is the prime minister.”

Though he has not spoken to Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman about the current coalition talks, Landau predicted that unless Liberman is allowed to keep his post as foreign minister or is promoted to defense minister, he won’t join the next government.

“If he is not offered the Foreign Ministry or something close to it, the chance of Yisrael Beytenu joining the coalition in my opinion is close to zero,” Landau said. “He has had so many jobs, he may decide not to be in the coalition this time.

He won’t join the government at any price.”

Despite being shown the door, Landau praised Liberman as “a Zionist leader who combines pragmatism with ideology in the style of David Ben-Gurion.” He said he voted for the party but that members of his family did not.

Asked what he intends to do next, the 71-year-old said he has been offered volunteer work for organizations and to work in academic institutions on public policy and combating terrorism. He said he is also interested in public diplomacy and Jewish education in Israel and around the world.

“We have to go back to our roots and history,” he said. “Our government here should be more in touch with Diaspora Jews to ensure their children’s Jewish education.

Too many of our youth are afraid to stand up and give proper answers.

We need to sharpen our legacy and make youth understand the treasure they have.”

Landau said he wanted to reach out to Jews abroad and encourage them to be in direct touch with specific communities and projects in Israel.

“Give up the computer and the Facebook even if you think you have many friends,” he said. “You need to feel the contact and the warmth and hear the tone of voice of the people of Sderot, Gush Etzion and Tel Aviv.”

Speaking just ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Landau said the leaders who come after him must not forget the principles that guided him and that the challenges of creating a Jewish state have not ended.

“In the world today, Israel is facing a shadow from physical threats and a new wave of anti-Semitism that some of us thought was behind us after the Holocaust,” he said.

“The future Israeli leadership must realize that the War of Independence is not over. 1948 was just the beginning. We are still involved in the just and historic cause of Zionism, restoring the Jewish people to their historic homeland.”

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