polling station 88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Despite the bad weather, several hundred members of the general public turned out to the Beit Daniel Synagogue in Tel Aviv for the second in The Jerusalem Post's English-language political forums moderated by editor-in-chief David Horowitz.
In a format similar to last month's highly successful debate in Jerusalem, the Thursday night event, cosponsored by AACI, UJIA and the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, offered party candidates from Kadima, Labor, Likud, Meretz, NRPNU, Shinui, Tafnit and Herut a rare opportunity to clearly and concisely outline their factions' major election policies in a joint meeting, before the floor was opened for questions from the audience.
Likud MK Uzi Landau highlighted security, the economy, democracy and Jewish education and values as the four principal factors of his party's manifesto. He noted, however, that since Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections, the major focus had been on the implementation of appropriate defense measures. "Peace is based on security, strength and the ability to deter one's enemies," he said, adding that as far as the terrorists are concerned, disengagement was perceived as a reward for their actions.
Blaming poor Israeli policies for the Hamas victory, he strongly emphasized the need for a reconsideration of security barrier proposals in order to safeguard major cities and highways from short-range fire. "Hamas must also be treated like lepers, similar to other like-minded organizations such as Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. We are in a state of war and no money should be given to them," he concluded.
MK Marina Solodkin, 6th on Kadima's list, said that though disengagement had been a "wise decision for Gaza," this did not mean that it would be so for Judea and Samaria. She defined Kadima as a centrist, national, liberal party, which believed strongly in securing permanent borders with a Jewish majority and which had been initially formed in part as a response to the crisis within Israel's political system.
"Israel is now ripe for the centrist policies of Kadima and it is therefore no surprise that the walls have come crumbling down on Labor, Likud and Shinui," she said.
Solodkin, a Russian immigrant who previously served in Natan Sharansky's Yisrael B'Aliyah Party also told the audience that she had left Likud because, "Netanyahu was anti-social and anti-immigrant." She noted in contrast that Kadima's Party list included six immigrants in prominent positions as well as generals, academics and women, reflecting, "the changing identities of the Israeli voter."
Labor MK Efraim Sneh said that his party was concerned both about national security and social justice. "The strength of a nation depends not only on its military might but also on its social fabric," he said. He then blamed Netanyahu's economic policies for widening the gap between the small group of wealthy people in this country and the much larger number of Israeli citizens who live in relative poverty.
Labor's fiscal proposals, he said, would include raising the budget for elderly people, increasing the health service basket, offering loans to students who would only be required to pay them back once they were earning an average wage and gradually increase in the minimum wage to 1000 dollars a month.
Regarding Hamas, Sneh was sceptical about the possibility of seeing even a temporary change in their character or ambitions to destroy Israel due to their firm religious ideology and beliefs. "It's like asking Eli Yishai (Shas Party head) to eat pork for eight years before going back to becoming religious," he added.
A number of the other candidates including MK Ehud Rassabi of Shinui, Uri Bank, 16th on the NUNRP list and Tafnit representative Dr. Marc Luria all focused on the need for major changes in the system.
Rassabi maintained that his party was concerned about the daily lives of its constituents, who he believes, should not be subject to government or religious guidelines regarding personal decisions such as who they are permitted to marry.
Bank criticized the lack of accountability faced by Israeli politicians and cited the "clean records" of MKs Benny Elon and Aryeh Eldad as examples of ethical leaders who could take this country forward.
"What has become of our Jewish State when the IDF has expelled people from their homes and left synagogues to be destroyed by the Palestinians?" he asked, adding that change would be precipitated by "voting for a party that all the way through Oslo said it was a mistake."
Luria also accentuated the need for all corruption in politics to be swiftly and effectively eliminated and went on to delineate a number of Tafnit's proposals such as imposing a minimum five-year jail sentence on corrupt candidates. He also urged Uzi Landau to see to it that disgraced MK Naomi Blumenthal was thrown out of Likud.
The far left and right were represented by Meretz candidate Dr. Tzvia Greenfield and Herut's number one Michael Kleiner respectively. Greenfield, who is orthodox, told the audience that her party was firmly committed to helping the weak and poor as well as being staunchly opposed to a "continuation of the occupation." Though asserting that it is imperative Israel remain a Jewish democratic state, it is also important, she said, that "this be built on a foundation of justice and that we therefore separate ourselves from the Palestinians by mutual agreement not unilaterally."
Kleiner said that Herut's vision had always been one of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and while claiming that the security fence is both an "illusion and a waste of money," he predicted that Jews will also one day be back in Gush Katif.
Further questions from the audience sparked off discussions among the candidates on issues such as the need for electoral reform, the future of a united Jerusalem, and the number of women politicians running for Knesset.
Following the event, audience member Lenny Berk told the Post that overall the debate had been "lively, interesting and enlightening," though he felt that Meretz candidate Tzvia Greenfield had been the most coherent. "She was one of the only ones who didn't ramble," he said.