Shimon Riklin, age 52, is a pundit who talks like a pundit. The Bayit Yehudi primary candidate has a snappy, sound-bite answer to many questions, often given with a grin that seems to combine bashfulness with a self-awareness that he is giving a clever response.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday at a café not far from the Tel Aviv studios for Channel 20, where he is the regular right-wing panelist on the current events program The Patriots, Riklin explained that pundit is one of the many hats he wears, and he hopes for the next one to be Knesset member.
Riklin grew up in a religious home with a father who was a member of the underground Stern Group and a friend of Yitzhak Shamir, the group’s commander who eventually became prime minister.
As a young adult, when Shamir was already premier, Riklin said he would meet with him and talk for hours.
His father’s experience in the paramilitary group inspired Riklin’s right-wing political positions, but also made him value volunteering and doing things to help the public, the candidate said.
Riklin learned archeology at Tel Aviv University as well as Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, and he worked for the Antiquities Authority, until he started a private excavation company “to make more money,” he explained with characteristic frankness.
“I dug up that intersection,” he said pointing toward the Hashalom Train Station.
Mosaics and gold coins he found are on display at the Israel Museum, yet he seemed surprised anyone would be interested in that part of his career – perhaps because it doesn’t come up often on his almost-daily television or radio appearances.
While working in archeology, he moved to the Binyamin region, where he still lives with his wife and three children, in Ma’aleh Michmash.
Riklin became part of the secretariat of Amana, the settlement-building movement, and helped found settlements like Migron and Mitzpe Dani.
When asked what he means when he says he built settlements, Riklin explained it matter-of-factly: “You find state land.
Then you find people who would want to live there. Then you find a night when there aren’t a lot of people around and go up there and bring caravans. Then, everyone yells at you, but they slowly get used to it, and that’s that.”
He compared the process to the way Israelis would build towns in the time of the Yishuv, by building a wall and a tower overnight.
The Bayit Yehudi candidate who would defend settlements and settlers to the media, has become a fixture on Channels 10 and 20. He has a radio program with journalist Erel Segal on Galei Israel, the Judea and Samaria regional radio station.
He has an ongoing chess game with Channel 2 political reporter Amit Segal – one of the many media-type names Riklin drops.
Meanwhile, he bought land around the country and became a real estate developer and entrepreneur.
His business experience is what most excites Riklin about possibly being an MK.
“I brought millions of dollars of investments to Israel and I know how to bring more,” he explained. “Investors from abroad are afraid to invest in Israel, because of the insane bureaucracy. The regulation is abnormal. Government offices are strangling us.”
According to Riklin, “The Israeli business sphere is blocked, and that raises the cost of living and makes our lives worse.”
One of the reasons for this situation, he said, is that powerful bureaucrats determine what happens more than elected officials.
“I think that’s crazy,” he commented. “I wanted to be an MK for a long time and change things like that. I don’t have bigger dreams. If I can’t make a change, then I’ll go.”
Riklin is open to working with politicians across the spectrum, because, he said, on issues like the blocked market, the Left and Right agree.
“I’m friends with [Labor primary candidate] Eldad Yaniv. When we talk about the State of Israel and not just about Judea and Samaria, we agree on 90 percent of things, like about the economy and stopping corruption,” he said.
Riklin explained why he wants to put economic issues before, say, peace talks or similar issues, echoing similar statements by Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
“I’m right-wing and I believe in the whole land of Israel, but any peace agreement will go to a referendum anyway, and I will accept its results. Until that point, there are so many important, day-to-day issues that it’s crazy not to deal with them.”