Yisrael Beiteinu, a small party dreaming big

MK Eliezer Cohen is willing to bet that when election results are announced, his secular, right-wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu, will have jumped from the three seats it received in the last election to as many as 10 mandates. He believes it will do better than the centrist, secular party, Shinui, or the combined efforts of the National Religious Party and the National Union. "Write this down on a piece of paper and call me the day after the election," Cohen told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. He predicted a rosier future than the pollsters, who believe his party will stay the same size. Jerusalem-born Cohen is not the stereotypical Yisrael Beiteinu voter, but he believes he is an important part of its future. The party, created in 1999 by former Soviet Union-born Avigdor Lieberman, is often thought of as an immigrant party. Cohen said that this was changing, adding that more than half of its voters were right-wing, secular Israelis. In this Knesset, Yisrael Beiteinu sat in the same faction with the National Union. But, for the moment, it is considering heading alone into the next election. While Yisrael Beiteinu is one of four parties that could be considered part of a right-wing bloc, Cohen said it wanted to wait until considering its options. Before contempating any kind of a deal with the Likud, he said, it wanted to know who would head the party. Yisrael Beiteinu member Mark Basin said he would like to see some kind of a four-party bloc before the election, but was unsure if that was possible. Yisrael Beiteinu member Robert Ilatov, who is deputy mayor of Netanya, said he would have a hard time working with the Likud if it was led by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who carried out the disengagement plan. Cohen said Yisrael Beiteinu was waiting to see if the National Union and the NRP could agree on terms for a joint list. He said initially it did not create a list with those two parties because it saw itself as the home of the secular right-wing in Israel, while those two parties were creating a Zionist religious bloc. Cohen said he was proud that Lieberman had a plan to counter the demographic threat while minimizing the evacuation of people from their homes. Lieberman's plan calls for new borders to be drawn around existing population areas, giving blocs of Judea and Samaria populated by Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for allowing Israel to maintain its sovereignty over settlements blocs. But Cohen said that was only one part of Yisrael Beiteinu. He said it also believed strongly in the need for a constitution and other structural reforms in government. Cohen has made that one of his primary missions in the Knesset. "We need a law to determine who we are and what we stand for," he said. "Do we stand for equality and democracy? Are we a Jewish nation? Everyone is confused." Cohen said a person could be a proud Jew strengthened by history, without being religious. He said the bible was not just a religious document, it was also an historical one, adding, "That's why Jerusalem is the capital of Israel." Cohen said following the elections a voting bloc could be formed with the Likud, the NRP, the National Union and Shas. Unlike Shinui, he said, Yisrael Beiteinu promoted the rights of secular Israelis while at the same time respecting the rights of religious Jews.