Just a week ago, Batya Kahana- Dror was best known for being the director of Mavoi Satum (“Dead End”), an organization that works for Agunot, “chained women” who have been refused a religious divorce and are unable to remarry according to Jewish law.
The attorney hoped to run in the Bayit Yehudi primary and get a slot in the Knesset, peppering her campaign with feminist messages about female empowerment and religious reform, calling herself “a clear, liberal voice” in the decidedly conservative party.
Then, last week, Kahana- Dror said “under some circumstances, we will have to discuss returning territory,” and she became known as the one Bayit Yehudi candidate who is willing to divide the Land of Israel.
Kahana-Dror has since been widely disparaged by her fellow candidates, and the hosts of a parlor meeting with her in Otniel canceled the event soon after her comments came to light.
As of Monday, Kahana-Dror had not received the 150 signatures from party members required by Wednesday in order to run in the primary, even though there are over 77,000 Bayit Yehudi members.
However, she expressed confidence that she would get enough signatures on time.
An attendee at a party event in Givat Shmuel Sunday night said Kahana-Dror asked for the audience’s signatures and received the answer “I’ll sign for anyone but you” more than once.
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Last Tuesday, during an interview with Army Radio, Kahana-Dror said: “I am very pragmatic in my diplomatic perceptions. Under some circumstances, we will have to discuss returning territory; we still have to discuss what percentage, but at the moment, that is far away, because we don’t have a partner. Maybe we can talk about land swaps; there are all kinds of plans.
“My worldview is not messianic; it is pragmatic. Our sovereignty as the Jewish people is important. We cannot lose it, and our right to live in this land must be a priority for us.
But under some circumstances we may have to [concede territory], and even the head of the party [Naftali Bennett] understands that,” she further explained.
“The religious-Zionist population is mostly pragmatic and liberal and, unfortunately, is not really represented in Bayit Yehudi as of today,” she added.
Kahana-Dror repeated and defended her statements to The Jerusalem Post Monday.
“My diplomatic opinions are those of Bayit Yehudi but without the messianic discourse of blindness happening today,” she said. “Why can’t we talk about pragmatism? Religious-Zionism never used to be like that. It is harmful to us to say you can’t be pragmatic…. I’m for the full land of Israel, but I say we need to see the problems and the possible solutions. I think Bennett agrees with this, too.”
Kahana-Dror wondered: “When did peace become an irrelevant word? We say it all the time in our prayers. Peace is the vision of the Jewish people, our ideal. How did it become a dirty word?” Bayit Yehudi released an official statement condemning the candidate’s statement: “Bayit Yehudi will never agree to giving away parts of the land, in addition to our strong and uncompromising stance facing terrorism. Whoever has such opinions belongs with us. Whoever doesn’t should be in a rotation with Buji [Labor leader Isaac Herzog].”
US-born primary candidate Uri Bank gave his signature to Kahana-Dror’s campaign but revoked it after hearing her stances.
“I do not think it is appropriate for someone who believes in giving away territory in the Land of Israel to Palestinians to run in our party…. One of the things that make Bayit Yehudi a unique party, as opposed to all others on left and right, is the fact that we unapologetically say that the whole Land of Israel is ours and completely reject the twostate solution. No other party has such a clear voice on the matter,” Bank wrote.
Kahana-Dror also admitted that Mavoi Satum receives funding from the New Israel Fund, though her campaign does not.
NIF is seen as an enemy of the Right by many, partly as a result of Bayit Yehudi primary candidate Ronen Shoval’s organization Im Tirzu’s research into NIF funding of activity the organization called anti-Zionist. The Shoval campaign’s Facebook page has 36 times more “likes” (over 54,000) than Kahana-Dror’s (over 1,500).
In response to criticism of her accepting NIF funds for her organization, Kahana- Dror wrote on Facebook: “I deal with saving lives and our organization is funded by donations alone…. Which Aguna should I have given up on freeing because I have to be picky and not take NIF money?” Then, Kahana-Dror listed several mainstream religious- Zionist organizations, like the Kfar Pines girls’ high school and the Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, which she said receive funding from NIF.
“Sure, there are some things [NIF] does that I don’t like, but who else offered Mavoi Satum that kind of money?” she asked rhetorically on Monday.
Kahana-Dror took responsibility for 12 bills brought to the Knesset to help Agunot, and lamented that she had to work on them with centrist and left-wing parties like Meretz and Yesh Atid.
“In my opinion, a religious party has to take the lead with Agunot. That’s why I joined Bayit Yehudi, to meet the challenges of religion and state. What interests me are the women whom the establishment and society do not see…. Bayit Yehudi has to deal with them, and they haven’t so far,” she explained.
Yehudit Shilat, a Bayit Yehudi candidate and director of the Takana Forum against sexual abuse and harassment by persons in leadership positions in the religious community, said Kahana-Dror should run in the Meretz primary.
“[Kahana-Dror] doesn’t defend Agunot with pragmatism; she tries to do the maximum for them. We have a vision, and then she turns around and talks about pragmatism.
This is as if [Hatnua leader] Tzipi Livni would run in the Bayit Yehudi primary,” Shilat told Army Radio.
Kahana-Dror responded by calling Shilat’s perspective superficial.
“Thank you for your offer [to run in Meretz], but I am religious and a Zionist and I want to preserve the wonderful miracle of the Jewish state, which people like Yehudit Shilat are harming, because they will not allow solutions,” she said.
Kahana-Dror complained to the Post that there is a delegitimization campaign against her, and even her son came home from school with a distorted idea of her views.
“An extremist discourse is taking over that doesn’t represent the [religious-Zionist] community,” she said.
Despite attacks on her candidacy, Kahana-Dror said her donations have increased since she made her controversial statements to Army Radio.
“People want to hear this voice, a religious, nationalist and sane voice that values Jewish identity and wants to protect it. Nothing is more important than that, and that is what most people want,” she stated. “I’m not giving up, and I won’t give up.”
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