Gilad Erdan: A rebel with a new cause

The Likud MK, an anti-smoking campaigner, will speak on a panel of young Israeli leaders at the GA.

gilad erdan 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gilad erdan 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Erdan made a name for himself as a freshman Likud MK by helping found the group of Likud rebels that opposed former prime minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza Strip withdrawal plan. Erdan's rebellion was more personal than for some of the other Likud MKs because he was a former adviser to Sharon, who discovered him at a political rally and brought him into Likud politics. Going against the party leader was a risk that left 11 out of the 13 rebels out of the Knesset, but it helped Erdan rise to finish second in the party's primary, earning the fourth slot on the Likud list in just his second term at the age of 36. Now Erdan has adopted a set of new, less controversial causes that he hopes will help build his career while improving Israeli society. Instead of fighting against territorial concessions, the Ashkelon native spends most of his time fighting against the evils of road accidents and public smoking and in favor of giving Israelis abroad the right to vote. "I couldn't vote for withdrawing from Gaza, because I didn't come to Knesset to vote in favor of what I once protested against," Erdan said in an interview. "I am focusing now on issues of quality of life, like traffic accidents, anti-smoking, consumerism and the environment, because people my age are more aware and concerned about them." Lost amid the headlines of the US elections and the attack in Beit Hanun, Erdan succeeded in passing on preliminary reading a bill that would enforce the ban on smoking in public places. The bill would impose an NIS 5,000 fine on owners of establishments who do not prevent smoking, raise fines for public smoking from NIS 350 to NIS 1,000 and obligate local authorities to hire inspectors to levy those fines. Final readings of the bill are expected to pass by the end of February, except if it is blocked by Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee chairman Moshe Sharoni of the Pensioners Party, who is a smoker. Erdan, who chairs the Al-Sam chain of drug treatment centers, quit smoking two years ago but now is committed to save people from the dangers of passive smoke. "It's a fiction that there can be a smoking section in a restaurant that is not divided from the rest of the restaurant," Erdan said. "It's like the farce there used to be on airplanes where row 20 was non-smoking and 21 was smoking. We know how passive smoke harms. This bill also has an educational component of teaching people to respect others' feelings and not force their habit on the 76% of the population that doesn't smoke." While some restaurant owners have complained about the bill, Erdan said it would increase their business because many non-smokers would feel freer to go out to eat. He said it would also end the situation of mothers of small children having to feel uncomfortable asking people smoking near them in restaurants to put out their cigarettes. Erdan has also passed laws that target traffic accidents, including the one requiring reflective vests for drivers outside their cars on highways and one authorizing police to confiscate vehicles of drunk drivers. Nearly 3,000 vehicles have been confiscated since the law took effect five months ago. According to Erdan, 250 lives could be saved a year if the government made fighting traffic accidents a national project. He said that foreign governments succeed in cutting traffic deaths by 30%-50% in a five-year period by investing in infrastructure and education. "Someone in the past invented the phrase 'human error' to make people think they are at fault and not the government," Erdan said. "People say Israelis are rude, impatient, angry people, and no matter what we do, accidents will happen. I thought this was true until I learned that other countries that had a similar problem managed to fix it." Erdan, who will be on a panel of young Israeli leaders at next week's United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles, favors giving Israelis abroad the right to vote. Such bills have been raised unsuccessfully in the past, but Erdan is confident that, through proper lobbying, he will succeed in passing the bill. According to a study done for Erdan, organizing absentee voting for Israelis abroad would cost only NIS 12 million. The study found that support would be equally divided between Right and Left. Erdan said he had not decided what limits to impose. But he said the current law was unfair because emissaries of the Israeli government are allowed to vote abroad but emissaries of hi-tech companies aren't.