Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Standing Strong: Jewish Voice Exclusive Interview with one of the Rising Stars of Israel’s Knesset

(Jacob Kornbluh for The Jewish Voice NY). For Tzipi Hotovely, one of many women serving in the Knesset, the first term as a Likud MK from the bench is not the start of a political career. Apparently quite happy with her position as a lawmaker and a voice among many others, Hotovely is proud of fighting for what she believes in, as she calls it, on "the high political stage."

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with the Jewish Voice while visiting New York to speak to the Jewish community, the 33-year-old Hotovely – who is fully committed to Orthodox Judaism and calls herself a “religious rightwinger” - acknowledged the fact that she might not be popular on the international stage, yet she says what motivated her to enter politics was her desire to bring "a moral sound to Israel’s political life, a Jewish voice to the political world on behalf of Israel, and a desire to bring back the Israeli pride that has gone missing over the years, in which we became more apologetic rather than more self-confident in who we are as a people and a country."

"Israel was not established to become another successful western country, but to bring a different voice to the world, and not always play by the regular western rules," the rising Likud star affirms.

In Hotovely’s view, the Israeli government has been trying for the past twenty years to act in accordance with the world’s expectations, to the point where the Jewish state has now convinced itself to take actions that are against its own national interests, even acquiescing to give up land to terrorist organizations, “only to wake up in the morning with rockets landing over our heads," she says ruefully.

"Academics was my real goal in life," admits Hotovely, who holds a Masters in Law at Bar Ilan University and a PhD from Tel Aviv University. But after scaling the heights of academia, then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu approached her to join the Likud, after watching her on Israel's channel 10 TV passionately criticizing the disengagement from Gaza, or in her words, “the collapse of democracy, integrity and values.” When Netanyahu called her up, she recalls, he expressed his wish to include politicians who care about values in the leading party.

Tzipi Hotovely’s “honeymoon” with Netanyahu lasted only a very short while, however, with the first sense of disenchantment occurring when the Prime Minister shocked the world and his own party by adopting - in the famous Bar Ilan speech in June of 2009 - the two-state solution that he himself had always been opposed to. Hotovely’s dismay intensified when Netanyahu implemented a 10 month moratorium on building in the West Bank, and with the resumption of the peace talks, at which time she harshly criticized the Prime Minister and the moves the government took, holding him accountable to the values the Likud platform represents.

Despite her differences with him, Hotovely’s dispute with the Prime Minister does not diminish her admiration of Netanyahu as a leader, and she says she has no other thoughts but to support him in the upcoming Likud chairmanship primaries. "When I look at all the leaders around, he is definitely the most qualified leader,” Hotovely claims. “The Prime Minister has deep appreciation for the values I represent in politics. Throughout all of the times I was criticizing him for certain moves, there was never a time that I got the message from him that what I am doing is wrong - I actually got the sense that he feels I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.” According to Hotovely, Netanyahu did not recruit her for the Likud to “play the yes-man game,” but rather to stand resolute on certain values and to represent a certain principled ideology. “I would have been worried if I would have lied to myself and to my electorate,” she says, “and done what is convenient and not what is right.”

Hotovely concedes to having one major dispute with the Prime Minister, which would be regarding the appropriate tactics to utilize when dealing with other countries. “Netanyahu adopted the tactic of ‘let's play the blame game,’ let's put the entire burden of proof on the other side, while Israel is doing everything to please the international community."

"This game is over,” she says, “it's an old-fashioned game that has proven to be a total fraud.”

In Hotovely’s view, the primary effort and energy has to be invested in facing reality, and understanding who Israel’s friends and foes are at this point. "The Palestinians are playing the politics of denial,” she asserts, “a denial of the right of Israel to exist, denial of our basic right of self-determination. They are making peace with our worst enemy, Hamas, and Abbas is telling Netanyahu outright that under no circumstances is he willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state."

Hotovely believes that Israel is experiencing one of the most serious periods of extremism in the Middle East, thus requiring it to be very clear about its goals and – given Israel’s limited power - not waste time, money and international efforts in the wrong places. She feels that the leader of Israel should put all of his foreign affairs efforts in diplomacy that will fortify America as an ally in this crucial war against extremism, and be candid about not wanting to negotiate a peace settlement with people who don't want to accept the idea of a Jewish state.

When asked whether she agrees with Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's comment that the Palestinians are an invented people, Hotovely responds that she finds it very courageous to say something that is historically true, but gets people confused with the facts. “Gingrich didn't say something that hasn't been said before in Israeli politics,” she notes. “Golda Meir used to make the same point, in order to place Israel in the position of not being willing to compromise on a problem that didn't exist."

"From his perspective as an historian, I think he made a correct comment,” she goes on. “They are not a nation and thus don't deserve national identity – that’s o.k. for me as a statement, as a way to start the discussion. But as a politician, as a political leader, this statement is not good enough, because one can deny their national identity, but you cannot deny their human identity."

In Hotovely’s view, Gingrich’s statement does not offer a solution to the problem, because she sees the Palestinians as people who have to be paid attention to, and the Israeli government has for too many years not thought of an appropriate solution. "The solution," she says, “is for us to state forthrightly that Judea and Samaria are part of Israel, that Israel will never be divided again. At the same time, we will not ignore the Palestinian people living in the West Bank, rather we will give them the opportunity to develop a national identity."

As Hotovely sees it, the Palestinians could choose either to become part of Jordan; consider themselves an ethnic minority in a Jewish state, as opposed to a Palestinian state; or be a state of all citizens, but in a Jewish state. In order for them to have a full citizenship, she elaborates, they would need to follow certain rules to get equal rights, such as equal duty (national service), pledging not to be affiliated with any terror organization, and recognizing that as a minority, they cannot overhaul the majority.

Hotovely points to American Jewry as an example of that approach. "Just like American Jews don't think they should build the Temple in Washington, D.C.,” she explains, “they know they have Israel as their homeland, and if they want to fulfill their national goal, they can do it in Israel, not in the United States."

While not a lone voice in advancing this idea - Knesset speaker Ruvi Rivlin, Minister Uzi Landau and former Defense Minister Moshe Arens are strong advocates of this concept - it hasn't gotten
further traction because, in Hotovely’s opinion, the Israeli government is locked in the old paradigm of the two state solution, and as a result it moves a little to the left, then to the right and then back to the center.

"The Prime Minister arrived at a certain juncture,” she says, “where he had a very strong resistance from an American administration that didn't leave him a lot of wiggle room to maneuver. It’s a failure of many years of not establishing the deep roots in the American diplomatic court to rethink the strategy."

According to Hotovely, the concept of a two state solution has been effectively dead since right after The Camp David summit in 2000, when she believes Israel should have sat down with the American officials in Washington and presented them with a new strategy. “We should have told them, ‘We all want peace – we too suffer from the fact that for years we have sacrificed ourselves in defense of our country in ongoing wars, but we ought to come up with an alternative solution'.”

Hotovely strongly feels that – rather than advancing useless negotiations over the last decade – Israel should have brought together its allies and peace broker to newly strategize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and thus could have prevented the Obama administration from pushing the parties to resume peace talks, with the inevitable pressures on Israel to make serious concessions.

With regard to the U.S.-Israel relationship, and President Obama's recent claim, while defending his record, that his administration has done more for Israel's security than any previous administration, Hotovely does not dismiss that claim but places the ball back in Obama's court. "His biggest challenge is still ahead,” she insists, “and that is whether he is willing to take the responsibility to stop Iran's rush towards developing a nuclear weapon. As the leader of the free world, he has to deal with the most important issue at the moment, one that could change the world's balance."

While Hotovely acknowledges that the Jewish state has its military capabilities, she is advocating for the Americans – as Israel’s only reliable ally - to take on the mission of solving the Iranian problem. At the same time, although she respects the United States for its contribution to Israel’s security, she states unequivocally that the Obama administration has been one of the most interfering American administrations ever, trying – in her view – to dictate to Israel, question its sovereignty and the government's actions, more than any previous U.S. President.

Hotovely is not hesitant to address the latest incidents in Israel, and in general, regarding the issue of public segregation between men and women, from a standpoint of serving as chairwoman of the Knesset's committee on the status of women in Israel. "Israel has gone through a major process when it comes to women’s rights,” she reveals. “We have more women in leadership positions; in fact, five women are going to be appointed as Israel Air Force pilots at the end of this month. So many glass ceilings are now open to women, and I think Israel is going through a very good period in this regard, despite the fact that there are some irrational people who are staking out positions that have no connection to Judaism. The separation of men and women in buses and public places has nothing to do with Judaism - I call it darkness or fear of women. It is unacceptable."

Hotovely is also not shy about responding to Hillary Clinton's critical comments on the status of women in Israel, in which the Secretary of State expressed shock over the growing discrimination against Israeli women, and cited by example the cases of IDF soldiers leaving during performances of female singers and the requirement in certain neighborhoods that females sit in the back of buses. Noting Clinton’s remark that some of these phenomena reminded her of Iran’s treatment of women, MK Hotovely took the Secretary of State to task for altering the truth. "Every leader should first stick to the truth and the facts,” she declares, “and I cannot believe that Mrs. Clinton is not aware of the facts."

Hotovely terms Clinton’s statement “the height of hypocrisy,' stressing that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that gives women full rights and full opportunities. Hotovely notes that while every society contains some elements of sexism, Israel had a woman serve as prime minister, and might have another one in the near future. As far as she is concerned, Hillary Clinton should recognize that Israel is “a lighthouse in the horrible darkness” of the Middle East in the realm of women’s rights.

Responding to Israel’s recent spate of right-wing Jewish violence and so-called “price tag” acts in the West Bank, Hotovely expresses her utmost level of condemnation. "They are the worst type of criminals,” she says matter-of-factly. “They may see themselves as ideological criminals, but in truth they are behaving as the most anti-moral, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist gangsters. Those who take part in these acts of vandalism should be put in jail and punished in the most severe manner. There is absolutely no place for explanation and justification of these acts in Israeli society."

In conclusion, Knesset Member Tzipi Hotovely says that American Jewry could be most effective at this time by addressing the "open wound that has yet to heal in the Jewish community," referring to the plight of the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who has been incarcerated by the United States for more than a quarter-century.

"Pollard is the modern Yosef of our time,” she states. “He was sold by Israel, the U.S. government and the American Jewish community. That community – especially now that we are in an election year - should employ of all its power and influence to urge the President to approve his clemency. This is especially critical now, given that Pollard’s health is failing, and who knows if he can even survive until the end of his sentence."

Calling it an act of cruelty to let him die in jail, Hotovely insists that it is our responsibility to raise the issue on the highest level possible. “We must do everything possible to bring Jonathan Pollard home to his wife, his family and his people," she concludes.