Shinui's run in the 16th Knesset got off to a good start: We were able to do away with the Ministry of Religion, give the public a government free of religious parties, and put a stop to the extortion of public funds on religious pretences - so much so that those days are now no more than a faded memory. But our constituents needed, wanted and expected more, so we decided to change our leadership.
Shinui is different now in more ways than one: Whatever hate, disdain and general rudeness we were so often accused of was gone the minute Tommy Lapid turned his back and walked away.
We are no longer the party that is obsessed with "getting" the Orthodox. All we want is to create a liberal, free society in which all sectors can live their lives as they see fit, equals in the face of government and the law.
We are not out to get the Orthodox. We simply believe that one sector of society has no right to dictate to all the others how they can and cannot marry, what they can or cannot eat, when they are and aren't entitled to use public transportation, when they can or cannot go shopping, and where and how, when the time comes, they must choose their final resting place. We believe in the right to choose: be it to marry in an Orthodox ceremony, a non-Orthodox one or a civil one; to eat non-kosher food, to shop on Shabbat, to ride the bus on holidays, and to be buried as one sees fit.
None of this is meant to hurt the feelings of the Orthodox community - on the contrary. The freedoms of the larger, secular community living in Israel should all be upheld with maximum sensitivity to the Orthodox.
IN THIS way, Shinui has revolutionized the way Israelis think. Past provocations such as Orthodox groups closing major traffic routes, demonstrations against the opening of shopping malls on Shabbat and the burnings of non-kosher food stores are over.
By making sure the religious parties hold no real power in government we have created a new, better reality for the majority of Israelis.
These issues are but a few that have gotten lost in the bigger picture the other parties paint for us during election times. It is why, for example, the Iranian threat has suddenly taken center stage. Where was it a month ago? It was a non-issue. Where will it be a month from now? A non-issue.
Everyone is swearing never to negotiate with Hamas. But they will. After all, who else is there to negotiate with? And the list goes on.
Shinui believes in peace. So do all the other parties. We will work - all of us - toward that peace, and relentlessly fight all forms of terror. We all want to see Israel integrated in the international community.
That said, we are the only party to put the citizens first. We believe in taking care of you. To protect your freedoms, to make sure your hard-earned tax money is well spent, to make sure every aspect of your life isn't controlled by a religious minority, and that the really big decisions you make in life - how to marry, what to eat, where you are buried - are really your own and not subjugated to a Supreme Court ruling or to the whim of an Orthodox Beit Din.
We stand for no tricks, no double standards. Just equality for all.
We pledge to fight corruption and bureaucracy; for personal freedoms, and for the recognition of the Declaration of Independence as our constitution. We pledge to fight for the individual's right to live his life as he sees fit regardless of religious or sexual orientation, and to fight for the right of students to a higher education through state-funding of B.A. studies, as in Europe.
SHINUI OFFERS its constituents a stellar team: MK Ehud Ratzbi, one of the most prolific legislators in the 16th Knesset - credited, among others, with the nullification of the stamp tax, and the sports driving act; MK Ilan Leibovitch, who singlehandedly created the gay and lesbian lobby in the Knesset, which he heads, and is the recipient of the Presidential Citation of Excellence for his work on environmental conservation; Sharon Pearl, a chemistry doctoral candidate from Haifa University... to name but a few, myself among them.
Shinui will never allow the domestic agenda to be pushed back. We will never allow corruption - even the smallest indiscretion by a public official - to go unpunished.
We've changed Shinui, and now we can change the country. For all of us.
The writer, a Tel Aviv councilman, heads the Shinui list for the Knesset.
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