(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Name: David Bitan
Hometown: Rishon Lezion
Family status: Married, 2 children
Profession before becoming an MK: Lawyer, member of the Rishon Lezion City Council for 27 years, including deputy mayor for 10 years.
Why did you decide to enter politics? I tried to get into the Knesset in the last election and when I was younger. Last time, I was 22nd place in Likud, and I would have gotten in, but the [merger] agreement with Yisrael Beytenu moved me down to 35th.
I always wanted to be an MK, and I think I have experience in the municipality and as a lawyer, so I can do the job for the good of the people and the country.
What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
I plan to deal with issues relating to local government and socioeconomic issues. I was born in Morocco and grew up in an immigrants’ neighborhood that was part of Project Renewal [a program introduced by former prime minister Menachem Begin’s government in 1977 to rehabilitate underprivileged and distressed neighborhoods]. I was a student and youth coordinator and saw socioeconomic problems in my youth and in my service in the municipality. I also have experience with planning and construction issues as a lawyer and a public official.
There are two bills I want to submit during the recess [that the Knesset is on until May].
One is to bring back aid in paying water bills, and another is that I want to encourage companies to invest its pension funds in Israel, because most of the times corporations needed haircuts is because of problems with investments abroad.
What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail?
Seeing the results of the exit polls and then the real results the next morning. That was the nicest experience. The rest was routine for me, because this wasn’t my first election; I already experienced everything else. I enjoyed the result most.
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? Israeli Arabs didn’t contribute much to the previous Knessets, because they mostly deal with the Palestinian issue, which is outside of Israel.
I think women will have a positive contribution, because they are intelligent and know how to work hard.What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?
I support the prime minister in that he says we cannot continue talking or do more than that until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, end the conflict and give up the right of return. Without those parameters, there is no point in negotiating.
These days, we negotiate just to make the US and the Europeans happy – the Palestinians do the same – and not to really bring peace.
That’s not how it should be. We should have real negotiations when they recognize what needs to be recognized. Without that, the conflict won’t end.
What impact do you think the tension in US-Israel relations will have on us in the next few years?
At the end of the day, the Americans are committed to Israel’s security. The tension is temporary. If it continues, it could influence the UN Security Council, where we need the US veto; that’s the only practical influence I see. Even though the president isn’t really on our side, I think that because Congress and the American public are with us, he will use the veto.
What should the government’s response be to growing global anti-Semitism?
Israel’s influence on anti-Semitism is minimal.
We need to help people make aliya and absorb Jews. We should invest as much as possible in public diplomacy and not skimp on that. We should also try to influence governments around the world to fight anti-Semitism, but it depends on them, not us.Do you support maintaining the status quo on religion and state – including issues like marriage, public transportation on Shabbat and kashrut?
Some changes can be made, but they have to be made by consensus, because we will probably have a coalition with religious parties. Still, I have no doubt changes need to be made, even if they’re made slowly. We have to give people solutions.
What can be done to lower the cost of housing?
In the last Knesset, actions were taken that moved things forward, and we will start feeling their influence during this term – things like changes to planning laws that allow things to be built more quickly, the state giving up a lot of its income from selling land and incentives for developers.
The level of building starts more or less meets the demand. The problem is that we were behind in the past, and we need to balance the numbers. The government has to publish as many tenders as possible so there are enough new homes.
Two things can lower prices quickly. One of the things raising prices is that there aren’t enough professionals who can do the work quickly; so we need to bring in more foreign workers. We need a bigger inventory of homes; so we can turn empty offices into homes. That could take a year.
In the center of the country, where there is high demand, that can add thousands of homes and help balance the supply and demand.What should the government do to lower the poverty rate?
The poverty rate doesn’t take unreported income into consideration. So in reality, it’s much lower than reported. We need to increase the minimum wage and to up allotments where it is necessary, like for the elderly and the handicapped. That’s where poverty really exists.Is there something else people should know about you?
I served the public for many years and have a lot of experience in the municipality and in the Likud. I think I came to this job prepared, and I am here to do significant work.