Meet the New MK: ZU’s Ksenia Svetlova wants official recognition for non-Orthodox Jewish streams

"The time came for me to roll up my sleeves and try to improve the situation from the inside," former 'Jerusalem Post' journalist said.

KSENIA SVETLOVA (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Name: Ksenia Svetlova
Party: Zionist Union (Hatnua)
Age: 37
Hometown: Modi’in
Family status: Lives with partner and has twin six-year-old girls
Profession before becoming an MK: Journalist and analyst on Arab affairs (including for The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report).
Why did you decide to enter politics?
In my eyes, the situation in our country has become so intolerable, in both the socioeconomic and diplomatic aspects, that I felt it wouldn’t be right to maintain a distance and watch from the side, like journalists do. The time came for me to roll up my sleeves and try to improve the situation from the inside.
What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
I want to continue where my party leader Tzipi Livni was stopped in promoting civil unions. Issues of religion and state are important to me. I also want equality between different denominations of Judaism in Israel. It’s intolerable that Conservative and Reform Judaism don’t have an equal budget and are not recognized by the state.
What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail?
I was surprised to see the state of our economy. I traveled to cities and kibbutzim and settlements all over and I saw poverty everywhere. I knew the situation was bad, but I didn’t know how bad it was.
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?
There are a lot of women in the Knesset, but it is not nearly enough. When we have around half or more [female MKs], then we can stop, but in the meantime, the struggle must continue. Women are half the population – doesn’t matter if they’re Jewish or Arab – and we need to be half of the Knesset.
That there are parties without female representation is unacceptable. We need to start with the legislature, and when we deal with this problem, we can be an example to the entire population.
What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?
Israel needs a diplomatic agreement to remain a sovereign, Jewish and democratic state. Sticking to the status quo and ruling over the Palestinians and their borders is an existential threat that could bring the destruction of the State of Israel.
I am a scholar and researcher of the Middle East, and I have been in enough Arab states and the Palestinian Authority to not be naïve. I don’t think the minute we sign an agreement we’ll have a new Middle East. We’ll have the same Middle East with all its problems, terrorism and internal tensions. Not everything depends on us, but we should work on the things that do. That will lessen international pressure and ensure that Israel remains the state of the Jewish people.
What impact do you think the tension in US-Israel relations will have on us in the next few years?
It’s very dangerous. There’s a war going on between our prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the White House. If [Hillary Clinton] wins [the 2016 US presidential election], we’ll have a continuation of the same policies and the same fights. Regardless of whether there is a Republican or a Democrat as president, we can’t damage US-Israel relations.
What should the government’s response be to growing global anti-Semitism?
We should pressure world governments to fight anti-Semitism. We should always remind the world that we are at the head of the battle against anti-Semitism, but we need other countries to take part and we must keep our fingers on the pulse and get involved. Internally we should prepare for aliya from places like Ukraine, where there is a war and anti-Semitism; and internationally we must speak out in places where anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism are clear as day – like a neo-Nazi conference in Saint Petersburg recently.
Do you support maintaining the status quo on religion and state – including issues like marriage, public transportation on Shabbat, kashrut and others?
I am against religious coercion. We live in a democratic state, and we’re preventing people from exercising a basic right of movement on their day of rest. This situation is not healthy for a democratic state. I’m for limited public transportation on Shabbat from city to city and to places of entertainment, the sea, parks. I think it’s hypocritical for people on the one hand to vote against public transportation on Saturdays, but drive a car on that day. It’s a holy day, but different Jews have a different interpretation of how to spend it…. The time has come to change the status quo, which may have been relevant in 1948 but isn’t today.
What can be done to lower the cost of housing?
The Zionist Union has an economic plan by [economist and new MK Manuel] Trajtenberg, and I think the government will act wisely if it follows [it]. It calls for the state to give land for free, while the construction is paid for by the contractor and the buyer. That will lower prices a lot. It’s also very important that there be affordable long-term rentals, which exist in all of Europe but not here. Not every family needs to buy a home.
If they know they can rent for many years, that can give them a possibility of not having to mortgage their kidneys....
What should the government do to lower the poverty rate?
There’s a clear issue of monopolies. There isn’t really competition in the food market. We need to fight the monopolies. That’s what the executive branch is for – to act and take care of the citizens.
Fighting monopolies will bring healthy competition in the market and lower prices.
Is there something else people should know about you?
I have experience as an immigrant and dealing with aliya – I came to Israel 24 years ago from Russia. I went to religious school in Israel, so I know about that population. I’m also a journalist who knows about Arab society.
I am able to represent all the various parts of the population. I want to be the public’s lobbyist. There are lobbyists who represent different interests. I have one interest: the people who live in Israel, their problems and their pains which need to be resolved.