The Media Line's Charles Bybelezer interviews Israeli parliamentarian Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu) at a TLV Internationals event on August 5, 2019.

Parliamentarian Oded Forer: ‘Make Israel Normal Again’ (with VIDEO)

The number two on Yisrael Beitenu’s list wants to end power of Israel’s religious parties

In a TLV Internationals event moderated by The Media Line, parliamentarian Oded Forer, number two on the list for the Yisrael Beitenu party, spoke to a crowd of largely new immigrants about why they should support his party in the September 17 national elections. The gathering was the first in a weekly “Sunset Series” taking place in August, with different parties represented each week.

TLV Internationals serves as an advocate for new immigrants to Israel with the national government. With a following of over 60,000 young men and women from a multitude of nations, backgrounds and professional fields, the group has built the largest expat community in Israel.

The September vote is the second to take place this year, after Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party failed to garner enough support to form a government after the April 9 vote.

Forer highlighted three major components of Beitenu’s platform: Creating a government free of religious influence, allowing public transportation on Shabbat and requiring Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews to be subject to the military draft.

“What we want to do is make Israel normal again,” Forer said. “We want to allow people to live the way they want.”

Forer expressed his belief that his party can double the number of seats it received in the first election to 10 or 11 this time by focusing on the increasing discontent of secular Israelis over the demands of the religious parties.

If Beitenu wins enough seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, he said it would advocate for forming a center-right unity government together with two other parties, Likud and the Benny-Gantz-led Blue and White faction. Such an alliance would almost undoubtedly garner the minimum 61 seats in the 120-member parliament needed to form a coalition.

“It doesn’t matter who the prime minister is, but what kind of government we have,” Forer said.

One of those attending the event was Brian Shaposhnik, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from Toronto in 2013. He did not vote for Yisrael Beitenu in the April election but believes the party is pro-LGBT rights.

“There is no other party that is committed to making a government without the [Haredim], and if the ultra-Orthodox are in, there is no hope of advancing LGBT rights,” he told The Media Line.

Forer also promoted public transportation on the Sabbath, which, with few exceptions, is not permitted. This creates a situation whereby only secular Jews who can afford a car or taxi can get around on Saturdays.

“You can run [bus] lines that won’t interfere with the religious population that will serve secular Jews who want to travel around the country,” Forer said.

Heading the list for Yisrael Beitenu is former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, who forced the second election after refusing to join Netanyahu’s coalition unless he pledged to pass a military draft bill. The legislation would increase the number of Haredim required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

“We are in the midst of a very interesting political earthquake that was triggered by Liberman’s decision not to give in regarding a military draft system,” Shahor Alon, number 14 on the Beitenu list, told The Media Line.

Israelis, both men and women, are drafted when they turn 18. Much of the Israeli population resents the fact that the ultra-Orthodox receive exemptions and, supported by state funds, instead study religious texts all day.

“Israeli society does not accept that whole sectors within it are not sharing the full responsibilities,” Alon said. “There should be equal service for everyone: Arab, Jew, religious, non-religious.”

Forer also focused on two other components of Beiteinu’s platform: reducing regulations on small business and increasing aliyah.

When Forer served as director general of the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, he almost doubled the number of those moving to Israel from about 17,000 to more than 30,000 a year.

“In today’s world, we don’t build kibbutzim or towns, the only way to feel like a Zionist is to support new olim [immigrants],” Alon said.

Forer also advocated for reducing the bureaucracy that small businesses have to deal with.

“What the government needs to give businesses is certainty, and you can’t [do that] when you add a new regulation every one or two months,” he said. “The U.S. should be a model for how you get a license for a small business.”

The fact that a second election is being held has caused some Israelis to question the country’s electoral system.

“I think it’s a massive waste of money,” Masha, who made aliyah last October from Sydney, Australia, told The Media Line. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Masha’s friend from Caracas, Venezuela, who also made aliyah in October, spoke to The Media Line on the condition of anonymity.

By contrast, she believes that having another election shows the robustness of Israel’s democracy, which she juxtaposed against her own country, which under a socialist dictatorship is facing economic ruin.

While she is not supporting Beiteinu, she feels it is important to hear other perspectives. “I can’t ask to be heard if I don’t hear others,” she said.

For his part, Beitenu’s Alon stressed that, “I’m sure our children will look at us and ask what we did for Israel. My answer” he concluded, “is to be part of the decision-makers for the years to come. The responsibility falls on our shoulders and now it is our time.”

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