Kulanu Party head Moshe Kahlon bears no resemblance to the late prime minister Menachem Begin, and those who support him may find that their votes have helped create a left-wing coalition, Likud Knesset candidate Bennie Begin warned Saturday night.
“I knew Menachem Begin. I never pretend to speak on his behalf. I am not his spokesman and I never guess what he would be saying” his son Bennie, who was one of seven panelists in an election debate sponsored by The Jerusalem Post, the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel and the Jerusalem Great Synagogue.
“There are pretenders in the political world,” said Begin, a former cabinet minister whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed to be 11th on the Likud list. Kahlon pretends “he is the new heir to prime minister Begin. It’s not right,” Begin declared to a packed audience of some 500 people. He launched his impromptu attack on Kulanu at the tail end of the debate after listening to other panelists drop his father's name to make their points.
“He [Kahlon] can pretend in whatever way he would like to, but do not be deceived. It is a very tricky game. Moshe Kahlon is investing a lot of effort to suck right-wing voters to his party,” Begin said.
Kulanu’s Michael Oren took issue with Begin’s statement, saying it was imprecise because Kahlon had never compared himself with the late prime minister who brought the Likud to power in 1977 after three decades of Labor rule.
“He [Kahlon] said he represents the spirit of the Likud as it existed under Begin,” said Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US.
Oren told the audience that when it came to the formation of a coalition, Kulanu would join any coalition that would allow it to honor its promises to the voters to make economic change.
Begin retorted that this meant there was a 50 percent chance Kahlon would join a coalition headed by the Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, adding that Kulanu was “constructing a pipe through which they will suck votes under false pretenses and move them to Mr. Herzog and Mrs. Livni, it is very dangerous.”
He urged right-wing voters in the audience to support the Likud so that Netanyahu could continue to protect the country, warning that unless voters flocked to Likud and erased the Zionist Union’s lead in the polls, Israel could find itself with a left-wing government.
“Are you going to recommend Mr. Netanyahu or Mrs. Livni though Mr. Herzog,” Begin challenged Oren.
“We will recommend any party that will allow us to keep our promises to our voters,” Oren responded.
“That’s right,” Begin said.
Begin pledged that the Likud would protect West Bank settlements. The difference between the Likud and the left wing parties, he said, is that they “are keen on putting Judea and Samaria on a give away table.”
Ayelet Shaked said her Bayit Yehudi party strongly supported Judea and Samaria and after the March 17th election would recommend that Netanyahu lead the next government.
But she warned that in spite of Begin’s words, the Likud itself would lead a coalition that could include the Zionist Union and thus might have to compromise on its principles.
She urged right-wing voters to support her party to ensure that Netanyahu would not have to make such compromises.
“We oppose a Palestinian state. We will not agree to give even an inch of land to the Arabs,” Shaked said of her party, which is to the right of the Likud.
Bayit Yehudi has explained this stance to the Americans and the Europeans, Shaked said.
“We respect the US. They are our best allies. We owe them a lot, but we do not need to agree with them on everything,” she said.
“When it comes to Israel’s security and destiny we have our own views,” Shaked said.
Nachman Shai, whose Zionist Union party supports the settlement blocs but opposed isolated settlements, said that a two-state solution was necessary to preserve a Jewish and democratic state.
“Unfortunately, the government [led by the Likud] did not go that way. We intend to renew negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” he said.
On the issue of Netanyahu’s speech on Iran to a joint session of the US Congress, Oren said there was broad consensus that the deal under negotiation between Tehran and the six world powers was dangerous both to Israel and the world.
But Netanyahu could have advocated against the deal without angering Democratic politicians and US President Barack Obama. “We have to think strategically how to this with the US,” Oren said. Otherwise Israel could find itself battling enemies on its boarders without the necessary US support.
Shai charged that Netanyahu “had embarrassed the American Jewish community by going to Washington.” His statement was greeted by boos from the audience.
“We need America in so many international forums. We need them all the time. And we need the President,” Shai said.
Uri Zaki of Meretz said that Israel can not be a partisan issue in the United States that is a strategic threat for the state of Israel. What Netanyahu did endangered Israel’s relationship both with the US government and the American Jewish community, Zaki said.
“I have a feeling that [Netanyahu’s speech to Congress] was more about the Obama threat than the Iranian threat,” he said.
Oren shout out, “No one can challenge Netanyahu’s sincerity in dealing with Iran.”
“I do,” Zaki responded, adding, “Then why did he go to Washington?”
Most of the party representatives, however, focused on economic issues during the debate, at times interrupting each other.
Zaki said Meretz was committed to social justice for all citizens.
“All of us are struggling, some of us much more. It doesn’t make sense that in the US people are making more money but the prices are cheaper,” Zaki said.
He added that his party believes in separation of religion and state, a move that would allow for civic marriage.
Oren said the economy was an existential threat to Israel. “Statistics show Israelis believe the greatest threats to this country are the social gaps, which are the largest in the world. I hear everyone talking about how great the Israeli economy is, I wonder if we are living in the same state. The poverty line, is at NIS 2,800. If you make NIS 2,801 you are not impoverished. It is a shame for the Jewish state.”
The situation will improve only when the monopoly of the banks and the (Israel) Lands Authority is broken up, he said.
“We did not come back to this country after 2000 years to watch it die because the price of groceries is too high,” Oren said.
The Likud’s Begin told the audience that people take for granted the economic changes made by his party, such as unemployment, which is one of the lowest among Western countries.
Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union chimed in that his party believes in a free-market economy, but that when it fails the government should take the lead in finding a solution for the cost of living, including providing an option for affordable housing. His party, Shai said, has a plan to bring down the cost of housing built into its platform.
Bayit Yehudi representative Ayelet Shaked said increasing supply would bring down the cost of housing and noted that Construction Minister Uri Ariel of her party had marketed 40,000 homes in 2014 and has plans to market 60,000 more this year.
“I hope in a year or two we will solve this problem. It is definitely the most severe issue in the Israeli economy,” Shaked said.
Her party, she said, supports a free market economy with social sensitivity. It has broken monopolies and encouraged competition, Shaked said. She attributed the drop in food prices to the actions of her party leader, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett.
Oren disagreed. “Food prices went down because people can’t afford to buy food, that is the only simple reason.”
Ashley Perry of Yisrael Beytenu said, “Let’s keep facts where they are. Yisrael Beytenu broke the dairy monopoly.” Perry said his party had created many jobs in the tourism industry by vastly increasing the number of tourists to the county. It also supported aliya from North America by giving money to Nefesh B’Nefesh, he said.
Yisrael Beytenu would also support an initiative to allow “those who served their country” to purchase a home with only 10 percent of the mortgage down, compared to 33 percent, Perry said.
On a separate note, he explained that a death penalty for terrorists was the first law his party planned to pass in the next Knesset.
Finally, Dov Lipman told the gathering that his Yesh Atid party promises a plan to bring down housing costs for the neediest in society without raising taxes by fighting and eliminating corruption.
“There is money everywhere but it’s wasted, it goes to all the wrong places. We will make sure the government is not spending your money without knowing where it is going,” said Lipman.
Yesh Atid has a socially-minded budget prepared, said Lipman.
“That is not just a campaign promise. It is here. It is ready to go. We look forward to getting back into office and getting that budget passed. It will bring down the cost of living dramatically for all of you and for all of Israel,” Lipman said.
The debate was moderated by Jerusalem Post Knesset reporter Lahav Harkov, together with editor-in-chief Steve Linde.