“I’m always optimistic,” Eshkol Regional Council chairman and Yesh Atid candidate Haim Jelin said Sunday. “Whoever is not optimistic cannot be the head of a regional council near the Gaza border.”
Jelin, who has led the Eshkol Regional Council through Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge, decided to move from local politics to the national scene and from voting for Labor to voting Yesh Atid, where he is 7th on the list.
Every day, the candidate drives across the country, from his home in Kibbutz Be’eri, as Yesh Atid’s representative to the periphery and agricultural areas. The audiences at the events, he said, seem to be more interested in his experiences during Protective Edge than in politics ahead of next month’s election.
The two are closely tied for Jelin. His name became known nationally as he appeared on every television station last summer, and after events took a tragic turn when his son, a soldier, was injured in the operation.
He also became more disillusioned with those in power. “Sometimes I would read the papers and laugh,” he recounted.
“If I was head of the regional council and I knew everything, how did the ministers not know [about Hamas tunnels]?... The government counts 50 days of fighting, but we [on the Gaza border] count 60 because they bombed us for 10 days and no one did anything. If terrorists didn’t come out of the ground, the government would have left the tunnels, too.”
Jelin pointed to what he called a “lack of determination” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, which he said is a result of ideology, not their character.
“They don’t believe that a solution is possible in Gaza and with the Palestinian Authority, so they want to manage the conflict, not solve it,” he explained.
Jelin also criticized the government for not trying to explain its actions last summer to the world.
He testified in Geneva to the UN Human Rights Council’s inquiry into Operation Protective Edge and found that the committee had little understanding of the situation.
“In Geneva, they asked me if kibbutzim are IDF bases, because Hamas told them they only bomb army bases, not civilians,” Jelin scoffed. “They think our kids are murderers. My son who was injured – I didn’t raise him to kill. I raised him to defend our country.”
Jelin said the UN shouldn’t waste its money on investigations, and learn about the sources of terrorism, instead. He recounted telling the committee that, decades ago, Palestinians in Gaza had a higher quality of life and worked and traded with Israelis, but now they are “hostages of Hamas.”
“What are the tunnels? They are the darkness. That’s what I see when I enter them. That is the Palestinians’ future… I don’t think that 1.8 million people [in Gaza] are terrorists, but if things continue as they are they will be because they have no future, no way to make a living or to learn like people anywhere else in the world,” he stated.
Yesh Atid’s platform on diplomacy are what attracted Jelin to the party, he explained, pointing to the party’s call to move public diplomacy out of the Prime Minister’s Office and invest more money and manpower in the effort “to explain what is happening here and that we want peace, not war.”
Jelin sums up Yesh Atid’s view on peace talks with the Palestinians as follows: “There’s no chance [Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas] will sign something unless we get all the moderate Arab states – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some of the gulf states – to force him to… What these states have in common is not that they love Israel or each other, but that they have a joint enemy: ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood and extremists that moderate Muslims reject. They are a stain on everyone who is Muslim.”
He also was drawn by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s willingness to accept that he made mistakes and fix them. According to Jelin, Lapid started out representing the center of the country, but has since branched out and let the kibbutznik form a new wing of the party to deal with the periphery’s problems.
“I have a direction and I represent these people,” Jelin said of residents of the periphery and agricultural towns. “Once Yair accepted that I’m founding that branch of the party and bringing the cry of these people, I was in. He tells farmers that he made mistakes. He admits it – that’s what’s great about him.”
Jelin’s contribution to Yesh Atid’s platform is a call to increase construction in the North and South and to copy some of the existing plans to build up the South to the North, which he called “much more peripheral than the South.”
“We need to pass laws and invest a lot in employment, housing and infrastructure to build a peripheral center in the North so people will want to live there,” he said.
Yesh Atid’s agricultural platform, Jelin explained, seeks to help farmers so they aren’t dependent on the state to survive while the mediators between the farmer and consumer make massive profits.
He suggested that the government pay subsidies for farming, depending on the crops and locations it is interested in supporting.
Plus, Jelin added with a grin, he joined the party because “Lapid isn’t afraid of surrounding himself with strong people, and I’m a wild man. I’m loyal and warm, but I’m wild; I’m not easy to work with. I’m opinionated.”
Jelin was born in Argentina and moved to Israel at age 18, serving as a lone soldier in the IDF. He said he looks forward to being able to represent Israel to South American states, together with Manuel Trajtenberg, another Argentinian, who is running in Zionist Union.
According to Jelin, the best way to help immigrants and convince Diaspora Jews to make aliya is to make Israel a better country, in general, making it easier to buy a home and get a job. The best way to do that is to bring peace, at which point “we won’t need to talk about aliya, people will just come here. We’ll be in a different place… Instead of spending government money on war, it would go to education, welfare and health. “I’m not selling fantasies, but we have to hope and aim for that. Otherwise, we’ll be depressed,” he said.
As for his eternal optimism, Jelin said he has to maintain a sunny disposition to give people hope. “People ask me what pills I take,” he joked. “People are depressed here, and it’s unfortunate. We have an amazing nation. They deserve that [the government] should do more for them.”