Meet the MK: Eli Ben-Dahan

The Bayit Yehudi lawmaker plans to propose a bill that would allow men refusing to grant a divorce to be extradited back to Israel.

Bayit Yehudi MK Eli Ben-Dahan 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
Bayit Yehudi MK Eli Ben-Dahan 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Bayit Yehudi)
Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, who placed fourth on Bayit Yehudi’s electoral list, is perhaps best known for his 21-year tenure as director of the Rabbinical Court system in Israel. He took up this position in 1989, and successfully separated the rabbinic courts from the Ministry of Religious Services, turning it into an independent entity.
During his time as director of the rabbinic courts, Dahan promoted legislation to enact punitive sanctions on husbands who refuse to give their wives a bill of divorce, worked to streamline the divorce process and promoted the introduction of female advocates into the Rabbinical Court system.
Name: Eli Ben-Dahan
Party: Bayit Hayehudi
Age: 58
Hometown: Har Homa, Jerusalem
Aliya: Made aliya with his family from Casablanca, Morocco in 1956 at two years old, and grew up in Beersheba
Family status: Married with nine children
Profession before becoming MK: Director of the rabbinical courts network for 21 years
Why did you decide to enter politics?
I thought that I could still contribute more. I’m young enough not to want to sit at home and I’m old enough to have enough experience to allow me to make a significant and valuable contribution to society.
What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
The first bill I want to introduce is one that would allow for any man who flees the country because he doesn’t want to give his wife a “get” (bill of divorce) to be extradited from foreign countries back to Israel. Other areas where I will introduce legislation will be in the realm of developing the country’s periphery, as well as improving the relationship between religion and state.
What was your most interesting experience on the campaign trail?
Just meeting people on the campaign of all backgrounds who were so happy to meet with us and talk. We spoke with regular people all around the country and this was the most interesting part of the campaign for me.
This Knesset has a record high number of women and religious people. How do you think this will affect the way it functions and the kinds of changes it brings?
It’s hard to say exactly what impact this will have.
What I know is that we need to have better cooperation with the religious parties, but I think this will only be possible after the coalition negotiations are over and then we’ll see better relations, God willing. Of course, it’s important that we increase cooperation with all parties too.
Do you think haredim and Arabs should perform military or national service, and if so, how should the state enforce it?
As our party has said before, someone who is learning in yeshiva and fulfilling his obligations must be allowed to continue studying.
But naturally, the number of people learning seriously as they are supposed to is small and many students stop learning as they are required to after the first few years of being in yeshiva.
Many get married and have other obligations, and someone not learning cannot remain in yeshiva and be protected by yeshiva. It’s not reasonable.
We do need to integrate Arabs into national service as well. I’m not sure that the IDF wants them in the army but there’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t do national or civilian service.
Do you support a religious- Zionist chief candidate, such as Rabbi David Stav, for the Chief Rabbinate?
Absolutely. Bayit Yehudi has established a committee to evaluate the candidacy of three national religious rabbis who are seeking the Ashkenazi chief rabbi position and one candidate who is running for the Sephardi chief rabbi position.
It’s important to get a national religious rabbi back in this position because someone not committed to Zionism cannot relate to the wider community. We need someone who sees the State of Israel as “reishit tzmihat geulateinu” [the first sprouting of our redemption], and sees in the state something of religious meaning. It is hard for a rabbi who is not national religious to partner in this project.
What do you think can be cut in the budget, which must be passed within 45 days of the government’s swearing in?
The security budget can certainly be cut, there’s no reason in the world not to look at that. There should also be cuts within ministerial departments, but higher taxes on the wealthy would also help reduce the budget deficit.
What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?
We oppose a Palestinian state completely. We’re 20 years on and there’s no give and take. There’s just give from our side while we’ve never gotten anything from them. Frankly, it seems that the maximum we can offer them is less than the minimum they are willing to accept.
Former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert both made very generous offers and yet they were still rejected by the Palestinians, so it seems like we’re simply playing chess with ourselves.
As our party advocates, we need to take full control of Area C [of the West Bank] and impose Israeli law there.
I don’t think the international community will have any serious influence [on Israel] if we do this. When we annexed east Jerusalem and the Golan [Heights] the US protested and halted support for a while, but eventually they understood that we’re a sovereign state and in the end there was no alternative but for us to maintain control over the Golan. The rest of Judea and Samaria will remain under Palestinian civil and security control but there won’t be a permanent solution or a sovereign state.