More than 200 people filled the AACI Render Hall in Netanya on Monday night to hear representatives of nine political parties set out their policies in English prior to the upcoming elections.
Moderated by The Jerusalem Post's Managing Editor Steve Linde - with occasional interruptions from a highly involved audience - it was the third forum of its kind presented by the Post, following similar events in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Labor MK Danny Yatom prefaced his remarks by saying that, although he grew up in Netanya, he was surprised by the large number of English speakers in the city who had come to the forum. He cited the issues of poverty, socio-economic problems and education inequities as the "ticking bomb" facing Israel.
Yatom pledged that Labor would place its priority on full and free education and push for university student loans which would be repaid only when the individual had a job and earned more than the average salary. When asked how this would be paid for, he replied that the security budget could be cut.
Asked about security issues and disengagement, Yatom pointed out that Labor's policy remains that Israel should control as few Palestinians as possible. Nevertheless, how that is done was important, he said, asserting that the current government had mistreated the settlers.
Danny Danon, a prospective Likud MK, did not address disengagement, but said the issues of security and defense were of utmost importance in Likud's platform and that it would concentrate on security issues so that the residents of Netanya could go comfortably to the Sharon Mall, the scene of a series of terrorist attacks.
He agreed with Yatom, unsurprisingly, that voters should not waste their ballot on one of the "small" parties, many of which, he said, would join the bigger ones in the end anyway.
"Just as when you travel, you choose an airline," Danon said. "so when you vote, you must also choose a pilot."
Uzi Dayan, head of the new Tafnit Party, retorting in the same metaphoric travel sphere, remarked that great care needed to be taken when choosing a carrier. Opting for Kadima, he declared, would be like going on a "national blind date."
This did not impress Yochanan Plesner, a prospective Kadima Knesset candidate, who pointed out that the polls show that Kadima is now the biggest party, and that, without ideological ties to the Right or Left, it has found plentiful center ground for its platform.
Plesner said Kadima's vision of the Jewish state was one that would exist with a Palestinian entity only if the Palestinians delivered on commitments to fight terrorism.
Uri Bank of the National Union/National Religious Party pledged a framework where Jews can live in safety and prosperity. He decried what he said was the violence of the security forces in the Amona evacuation.
Dayan, a firm proponent of the security fence, said it was essential to mark the country's borders as soon as possible if the nation wanted to pass on to the next generation a Jewish state with a solid Jewish majority.
Michael Kleiner of Herut said his party would maintain defensible borders by not giving up on such areas as Hebron and Beit El. Herut proposes a solution to the demographic problem that encourages emigration to Arab countries by giving financial incentives.
In order to preserve a Jewish, democratic majority, Kleiner said Herut proposed asking every prospective voter to register and sign a pledge of allegiance to the Jewish state.
David Rotem described his Israel Beiteinu as a party of immigration, security and settlement. It favored a land and population swap so that Israel could remain a state where a sizable majority are Jews. In addition, the party proposes a government which looks more carefully at the everyday concerns of its citizens in areas such as health and security.
Ronnie Brizon, representing the Hetz - Secular Zionist Party, called for a government with open pluralistic and humanitarian ideologies.
Evaluating the integrity of the candidates during the evening was an important issue for Netanya residents Miriam and Yehudah Rabinovitz, formerly of Chicago. They went to gather information, they said, and expressed skepticism about several proposals put before them during the evening.
"In a past election, we voted for Tehiya, and that was a lost vote because it went to Likud," said Yehudah Rabinovitz. "Nevertheless, we do the best we can; we try to be informed of the options and know that God is watching over us. That is why we came to Israel."
"I think that the fact that so many important figures in the parties came to Netanya to present their policies in English makes the English-speaking community feel included," said Rachel Rubin Hirsch, director of the Netanya AACI, a cosponsor of the evening.