Meet the MK: Erel Margalit

Tenth in a series on the 48 new members of the 19th Knesset: The Labor lawmaker wants to cut the cost of housing.

erel370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The founder and managing partner of the venture capital firm Jerusalem Venture Partners, Erel Margalit spent 1969- 1971 in Detroit as a child. He fought as a reservist in the First Lebanon War.
In 2002, he founded the social organization Bakehila to help poor children in Jerusalem, and after the second intifada, created Hama’abada (The Lab) to keep young artists in the capital.
Name: Erel Margalit Party: Labor Age: 52 Hometown: Born on Kibbutz Na’an, grew up in Na’an and Karmiel and, since age 14, has lived in Jerusalem.
Family status: Married to Debbie, whose mother is American. Has “three tall, assertive and opinionated daughters, aged 23-17, who rule.”
Profession before becoming an MK: Hi-tech and socioeconomic entrepreneur.
Why did you decide to enter politics?
Because I think I am finally ready. Rabbi Kook said that only after a man undertakes things, and succeeds, can he reach a level where he can serve the public. I had to study until age 30, get a PhD, work three years under Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek as a civil servant, and then work 20 years as an entrepreneur where I learned that social entrepreneurship is more fulfilling than making money, and finally now, I am ready to serve.
What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
1) To allow mothers to bring their strollers on buses and trains without paying for a ticket.
2) Affordable hi-tech: Bringing government incentives to hi-tech in seven regions.
3) Affordable housing bill: See below.
What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail?
I have met countless people in countless places. From neighborhoods in Beersheba to Arabs in Nazareth to students in Tel Hai. You get to talk to people about things they would have never spoken to you about as a business person.
It was an amazing journey.
Coming to a place where I was not known and having five minutes to prove myself relevant.
You either touch people or they don't care.
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?
The fact that there are so many new faces and so many women is amazing. Israel politics will undergo a tremendous change in the next 10 years. It’s time for the entrepreneurship and the daring that we see in so many realms of Israeli life come to the political arena. Women always change the game because they are much more about collaboration than domination.
Do you think haredim and Arabs should do military or national service, and if so, how should the state enforce it?
I absolutely think we need a new partnership between the secular and haredi communities.
We need to give them a bridge to enter the workforce, then national service, and only then army service.
It is very different than Yesh Atid’s plan. It’s a win-win and a money-maker. Israel can turn into the hub of software development instead of India via a joint venture with the haredim.
The Arab community is one of the most educated and interested communities in Israel and they want to enter the creative workforce.
Instead of talking about the Arab community’s problems, we should talk about the opportunities. National service is a good way to go. My program in Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa neighborhood could be a model. We prepare them for the matriculation tests in return for them volunteering in their communities. They bring major change with a sense of mission.
Do you support a national religious chief candidate, such as Rabbi David Stav, for the Chief Rabbinate?
Absolutely. It can make a major difference for marriage and conversion. It’s about time the rabbinate goes back to serving society rather than attacking it. New immigrants have to prove that they are Jewish in so many ways. Let’s embrace them instead of constantly questioning them.
What can be done to lower the cost of housing in Israel?
I will sponsor an affordable housing bill that forces financial institutions to be involved, the Israel Lands Authority to give land for free, and gives tax rebates to builders who build affordable housing. It includes building for young professionals, elderly, homeless and students.
It is modeled after what New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did in his city.
What do you think can be cut in the budget, which must be passed within 45 days of the government’s swearing-in?
There needs to be a serious discussion about the defense budget and ways to save on it.
National infrastructure projects east of the [West Bank security] fence should be put on hold and considered carefully. Building should continue in the [settlement] blocs. I would put expedite some national infrastructure projects while cutting others, like building major highways in the West Bank.
There would not have to be as many cuts if VAT was raised on high-end luxury projects.
What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?
I don’t think there is anything as urgent as reentering talks with the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries on the basis of a two-state solution, with the idea of an interim agreement as a possible first step. We are called a “start-up nation” [Margalit is the focus of two chapters in the 2009 book by that name]. On negotiations, we should be a start-up nation rather than a stagnation.
If people tell me there is no partner, they should drive with me 17 minutes north from Jerusalem to Ramallah where you will see 35 cranes. Between 2003 and 2006 there were 1,118 Israeli casualties caused by Palestinians in the West Bank. Since [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayad took over there were 19. In the last year there was zero. These are people we could work with.
Do you support the adoption of the Edmund Levy Report, which recommends the state approve unauthorized Jewish settlements in the West Bank?
No. I think it would lead to a one-state solution in the long term and the Jews would lose their majority in Israel.