Meet the new MK: Dani Atar wants to improve Jewish-Arab relations

New Zionist Union MK seeks to bolster agriculture, strengthen the periphery and improve ties between local and national government.

April 9, 2015 04:33
Dani Atar

Dani Atar . (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Name: Dani Atar
Party: Zionist Union
Age: 57
Hometown: Gan Ner in the Gilboa region
Family status: Married for 35 years, 3 children
Profession before becoming an MK: Head of the Gilboa Regional Council for 21 years

Why did you decide to enter politics?
After 21 years in local politics, I achieved 90 percent of the goals I set at the beginning of my path and did great things. It will be a great challenge bring some of that to the national level.

What are the first three bills you plan to propose?

There are four main issues I plan to deal with. First, I come from the world of working settlements [kibbutzim and moshavim], so I want to bolster agriculture. The second is to strengthen the periphery, and the third is to improve relations between local and national government, which suffered in recent years.

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The fourth is to improve relations between Jews and Arabs. I am one of the leaders on this issue in the country. Our local council region is almost 40 percent Arabs and in the 21 years that I was at the head of it, I made sure Jews and Arabs are fully equal in everything that has to do with local government, whether it’s education, infrastructure, construction or involvement in leadership and management. We had total cooperation and integration. The results of that show that if the same was true for all of Israel, life would be better for Jews and Arabs.

What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail?

The most fascinating experience was meeting students in schools.

I met youths who were going to vote for the first time, moving from having no responsibility to helping make decisions for the country. The topics that interested them were very interesting. They weren’t like older people who vote like they’re soccer fans – they have to vote for their team, no matter what. They had a clean slate, so I could present an agenda and a worldview and they could consider it without other considerations.

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 think Zionist Union is the party with the highest number of women in the 20th Knesset. In my experience in the Gilboa Regional Council, I saw that when women are involved in leadership, it is of a higher quality and the decision- making process is improved.

Women think differently than men, and I hope that will bring good things. I have always been in favor of having more women involved in politics, and I hope in the next Knesset it will spread to all parties, not just ours.

The fact that the Joint (Arab) List now has more MKs than it did as individual parties won’t change the reality in the Knesset, unfortunately, because they already announced that they don’t see themselves as part of the process. I hope they’ll change their minds and see their job as to represent the needs of the Arab population that lives in the country and cooperate based on social needs and integration in society. If they do, it will improve Arabs’ quality of life and the general atmosphere.

What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?

The reality in the Middle East requires Israel to push forward a diplomatic process of talking to the Palestinians and creating a different discourse from what we are used to. Looking at trends in the Middle East, we see the spread of Iran’s Shi’ite influence in Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa, in addition to Tehran. We can create a coalition of moderates who oppose Iran-led radicalism.

We need real, honest and deep talks with the Palestinians. I hope they will lead to a peace treaty, but I think we are far from that point.

We need to start the process, and if it’s successful, then we can talk about peace.

What impact do you think the tension in US-Israel relations will have on us in the next few years?
I think a very bad thing is happening to us with the Americans. The prime minister’s behavior is wrong.

We should not get involved in US politics and disrespect the power of the president of the most important superpower in the world. That will only be bad for us and harm our deterrence, which is based in large part not only on the IDF but on our strong connection with America and its international standing. The prime minister must move from the agenda that helped him in the election to one of reconciliation with the Americans, because things are not going in a good direction. This could hurt our economy, as well.

The interpersonal relations need to be fixed, first of all. These are world leaders, but they’re still people with feelings. The prime minister has to take responsibility.

What should the government’s response be to growing global anti-Semitism?

This is a direct continuation of the last question, because it has to do with our relations with the Western world. Anti-Semitism wasn’t born yesterday and won’t end tomorrow, but in this matter, we need to have a strong international coalition and fight it with as much power as possible. To do that, we need full synchronization with the Western world. Being in a coalition of moderates in the Middle East will decrease anti-Semitism, even if nothing will make it totally disappear. The lack of an agreement with the Palestinians is as fuel to the fire of anti-Semitism coming out of social movements and academia.

The question here is what is the height of the flames and what is Israel’s part in it.

Do you support maintaining the status quo on religion and state – including issues like marriage, public transportation on Shabbat and kashrut?
No. Totally not. I am very liberal in my opinions and I am for allowing everyone to choose how he wants to run his life and whom he wants to live with. We need freedom and to allow [civil marriage] here in the country and not require people to go to Cyprus or elsewhere to exercise a basic right in an enlightened society.

What can be done to lower the cost of housing?
We need to dramatically cut bureaucracy, which is a disease.

The government has to allow every young couple to get a mortgage with good terms that allow people to make payments and still live a normal, reasonable life. We also need to encourage people to live in the periphery and strengthen development towns.

What should the government do to lower the poverty rate?

I think the fact that the government is not involved in economic processes and there is only a free market with unlimited competition is a problem. People can’t make a living. It used to be that the second adult in a family was encouraged to work and help make a living. Today, two spouses can work overtime and still be unable to make a living. We need to lower prices, close gaps and increase competition in the market, but not in a way that creates cartels, in a way that lowers prices. Prices for basic food items cannot be higher in the periphery than in the Center. These things can happen with government intervention and not with the neoliberal policy we have seen in recent years, decreasing government involvement in the market.

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