Orly Benny Davis moves from Senate race to Likud

South Carolina Republican hopes to bring open debate and "freedom" to Israeli politics.

Orly Benny Davis 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Orly Benny Davis)
Orly Benny Davis 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Orly Benny Davis)
Orly Benny Davis, who is vying for the woman’s slot in the Likud primary, brings a bit of each country she’s lived in, to Israeli politics.
Sitting in a Tel Aviv café on Thursday, Davis sipped espresso with soda water, as is customary in Rome – where she spent her high school years and young adulthood – and discussed the importance of maintaining Israel’s Jewish nature.
Still, after over 20 years in the US, American politics are what make her a unique figure in the Likud race.
Davis is trying her luck at getting into the Knesset eight years after a failed campaign to be the Republican candidate for senator from South Carolina, and with years of work with AIPAC under her belt.
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The Likud primary candidate was born and raised in Israel, and after returning several times, moved with her husband and four children to Rehovot three years ago.
Since then, the political bug has bitten Davis again, and she is itching to bring some of American political culture to the Likud and to Israeli government.
“When I ran in the Republican primary, the senate seat was empty, and a big, glorious group of candidates saw an opportunity to run. We had 18 debates, where we met and influenced each other,” Davis said.
“Women here are evading debate. They don’t even tell their story,” she said.
Davis is confident that the women running for the 24th spot on the Likud list won’t debate her, because she is more qualified.
“It’s like first graders facing a high school senior. They know a lot of people, but they don’t know what needs to be done,” she said.
“I’m the better candidate by far. Politics is what I do every day; it’s been my deal for the last 20 years.”
Still she admitted, “being in the Knesset won’t be easy. MKs are [verbally] beaten up every day.”
Davis’ political views are driven by striving for freedom, she said, explaining that “if you don’t give a person freedom, he cannot live.”
“Freedom” is a major issue when it comes to religion, according to Davis, citing the fact that Jewish couples in Israel can only get married and divorced through the rabbinate.
“This is ludicrous, especially when it comes to divorce,” she said. “Women do not have the liberty to live with whoever they want, because the rabbinical courts decide. If civil issues are decided by religion, it always hurts women.” According to Davis, there should be civil marriages and divorces in addition to a religious system.
“I want to represent women, and freedom is the most important thing for any woman in the world,” she said.
“We need a system that gives women an even playing ground.”
The drive for freedom also stands behind Davis’ call for the government to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.
“I believe that, now that the Jewish People have finally come to the Land of Israel, we need freedom of worship. If you want to pray in America, no one will stop you, but here we can’t pray on the Temple Mount,” she said.
“Why? I don’t understand why that right has been taken from Jewish people. It’s Jewish land, we have Jewish sovereignty.”
Davis recounted working with Sen. Lindsey Graham (Republican-SC) on legislation recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and said the American politician expressed interest in the topic and “works to protect Holy Places.”
The Likud candidate also spoke out against sectorial politics within her party, which recently faced criticism for having Sephardic grassroots support while most of its ministers are Ashkenazi.
“I’m pale, but I’m Sephardic,” she quipped, referring to her family’s Libyan roots.
“Still, I don’t think people should vote for me because of it. Politicians, including Sephardim, should have a place [in the Knesset] if they’re educated and know the material. They need to deliver.”
Similarly, she discussed concerns that “Russians will take over Likud” after the party formed a united list with Yisrael Beytenu.“Why don’t we sit together and see what unites us? We can make friends. Russians in Likud should welcome debate. I love to talk, I think that’s the solution for everything,” she said.
As for her relative anonymity in the Likud race, Davis is not concerned.
“I’ve been preparing for my debut for years. People say ‘nobody knows you,’ but they should,” she stated. “I’m a big player, and I shouldn’t be ignored. The Likud needs me on its team.”