Meet the New MK: Kulanu's Shasha-Biton wants to narrow social gaps through education

"I plan to deal with social and education issues, in connection to narrowing social gaps and eradicating injustices, and I have concrete ideas of how to do that."

Dr. Yifat Sassa-Biton. (photo credit: TAMIR BARGIG)
Dr. Yifat Sassa-Biton.
(photo credit: TAMIR BARGIG)
Name:  Yifat Shasha-Biton
Party:  Kulanu
Age:  41
Hometown: Kiryat Shmona, where she was born and raised
Family status:  Married with three children. Her oldest son is a soldier and she has a 16-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter.

Profession before becoming an MK:
Shasha-Biton received her doctorate in education at age 29, and wrote her dissertation on the influence of education on how Palestinian and Israeli youth understand the concept of peace. Before entering national politics, she was deputy president of Ohalo College, a teacher training school, and was on Kiryat Shmona's city council since 2008. The city won the Education Prize while she was deputy mayor.

Why did you decide to enter politics?
I have been socially and politically active in different ways throughout my life, and I always wanted to have an influence. That is why I entered local politics. I had an opportunity to widen my circle of influence and be part of something I really believe in. When [Kulanu chairman Moshe] Kahlon spoke to me about his agenda, I saw it as a natural place for me to be.

What are the first three bills you plan to propose? I plan to deal with social and education issues, in connection to narrowing social gaps and eradicating injustices, and I have concrete ideas of how to do that.
For example, day care is currently subsidized according to how many hours a woman works, in order to encourage women to get jobs. However, in the periphery, it is hard to find full-time jobs, and women are discouraged from working at all, because the daycare subsidy for women who work part time is so small. I propose that the subsidy be decided according to income, not hours.
I also want local authorities to be budgeted [by the national government] differentially, so that weaker municipalities get a higher budget and stronger ones get lower budgets. Currently, everyone gets the same thing. This will impact all social services, including education, health and welfare.

What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail? There were a lot of them! I worked day and night; it was very intensive. I met a ton of people from different population groups. The whole campaign was one amazing experience. It was a significant learning process.
This Knesset has a record high number of women and Israeli Arabs. How do you think this will affect the way it functions and the kinds of changes it brings? I'm happy that the number of women is growing, but we're still not where we need to be. More women have to run and enter the Knesset.
In general, I think the greater variety in the Knesset will give voice to more groups in the population, and that is good for everyone.
What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state? I wrote my doctorate about education for peace, so I've dealt with this issue. At the moment, we're not there yet, but when the time comes, we need to aim for an agreement that protects what is good for us as the Jewish People in the Jewish State. There are things that shouldn't be up for negotiation like Jerusalem and our right to defend ourselves. When there is an agreement that doesn't cross those lines, we should support it, but that is less relevant now.
What impact do you think the tension in US-Israel relations will have on us in the next few years? I want to believe that our leadership will know to take responsibility and fix the relationship and lower the tension. That's my hope.
What should the government's response be to growing global anti-Semitism? Anti-Semitism has always existed. These days, it mostly comes from extreme groups, not governments. We need to put the issue on the international agenda and make sure that everyone around the world is aware of it. In order to do that, the government has to maintain good relations with as many countries as possible.
Do you support maintaining the status quo on religion and state – including issues like marriage, public transportation on Shabbat, kashrut and others? I wouldn't rush to break the status quo, but small things can be done. Personally, I think everyone should be able to live their lives as they choose at home as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. Public transportation on Shabbat can help lower social gaps. Every municipality should decide where it's allowed and where it shouldn't exist because it will harm [religious] people who live there, thus allowing those who want public transportation to use it and those who don't want it to avoid it. It needs to be dealt with on the local level.
What can be done to lower the cost of housing? Kulanu made housing a priority. We have a clear plan that includes reforming the Israel Land Authority, increasing the supply of homes, and breaking bureaucratic obstacles. The bureaucracy makes things take too much time, and shortening construction time alone will lower prices. We also want to take all the government offices related [to housing] and put them under one regulator that will be responsible for the issue. This was part of our platform, and I stand with Kahlon on it.
What should the government do to lower the poverty rate? First of all there's the Alalouf Report [on poverty, the product of a Welfare Ministry-sponsored committee led by new MK Eli Alalouf], from our party. There are concrete, detailed proposals on how to do reduce poverty in the report. As an educator, I think everything starts with education. If, from a young age, people have equal opportunities to succeed and higher education is accessible to the whole population, then we can narrow the gaps and lower poverty. We also need to increase employment opportunities, but education is the starting point.
Is there something else people should know about you? First of all, I am really here to serve the public. I know the challenges in Israeli society and I have a tool box that can help me take care of the different issues in a concrete, practical way. I don't just know how to point out the problems; I know how to get things done.

Tags kulanu