Tzipi Hotovely, 30, is the youngest member of Knesset and a rising star in the Likud party. She grew up in Rechovot and earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bar Ilan University, where she served as editor of the Law Review.
Plucked from political obscurity by Benjamin Netanyahu, this relative newcomer has quickly made her mark in the political arena with her straight talk and hawkish stance. She spoke recently with The Jewish Press about her background, her views, and her vision for the future of Israel.
The Jewish Press: How did you get your start in politics?
Hotovely: My path to politics was very unique. I didn’t plan to be in politics. I was a Ph.D. student at Tel Aviv University. Three years ago I started performing in a political debate show on Channel 10. I was the only woman, the only religious right-winger among the panel.
So I attracted a lot of attention. One of the viewers was Benjamin Netanyahu. He was very impressed and called me to his office and said, “I think you’re doing a great job, but you can contribute much more to the Jewish people by going into politics.”
He asked me to join the Likud. For me it was a big dilemma because I had been writing in Maariv and was part of the academic world, and I wasn’t sure where I would contribute more. But after the Gaza Disengagement I realized that the most important decisions are created here [in the Knesset]. That was the reason I decided that whatever issues might arise concerning the settlers in Eretz Yisrael, I want to be here to raise my hand for whatever is good for the Jewish people.
The majority of Israelis, in voting for right-wing parties following the Gaza War, apparently wanted Israel to take a harder line – much the same way they elected Ariel Sharon following the increase in terror in 2001. Are there any assurances that the new Likud government, unlike the previous Likud government in the mid-2000s, will adhere to the platform on which it was elected?
The fact is, all the people who weren’t devoted to the Likud ideology are now in Kadima. The team the Likud presented in this election is comprised of very ideologically-minded people, including ministers and members of Knesset who are very right wing, like Benny Begin and Moshe Yaalon. They want to give the message that we won’t let the Sharon case happen again.
Many people enter politics as hardliners but compromise their positions once they’re in the political arena. Though you’ve only been in the Knesset a short time, do you find it harder to maintain your positions now that you’re part of the process?
I think there is a very big difference between a member of Knesset and the prime minister. The prime minister is part of the international arena. When you’re a member of Knesset it’s much easier to feel free to say whatever you want.
Netanyahu gave control of much of Hebron to the Palestinians during his first term as prime minister and then later, as a minister in the Sharon government, withdrew his support of the Gaza Disengagement at a time his action was guaranteed not to have any significant impact. Do you feel this same Netanyahu is strong enough to withstand pressure from President Obama and the Europeans?
I trust Netanyahu and think he has returned to the prime minister’s chair older and much more mature. But more than what he learned is the fact that the reality has changed. When he was prime minister the first time he was shackled by the Oslo accords and he was trying to stop them. But the whole process revolved around Oslo. Now Oslo is not an issue anymore because everyone knows the process failed and everyone is looking for a new way. And he will bring that new approach.
Netanyahu has talked of bolstering the Palestinian economy. With PA President Mahmoud Abbas refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and with Fatah continuing to disseminate anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic propaganda among the Palestinian people, how would economic improvement change the political landscape?
What Netanyahu is talking about is three routes – one through the economy, one through security and one through the leadership. I think when he talks about the economy he means in the broader perspective. He doesn’t mean just improving the standard of living. I think he is talking about education as well. It’s part of the economic plan. Every time I speak to him he says that as long as the Palestinians keep up their anti-Zionist propaganda and the way they teach their children in high school and even in kindergarten, peace will be far and unreachable.
With the threat of a nuclear-equipped Iran increasing and in the absence of strong U.S. opposition to that threat, do you envision the Netanyahu government taking unilateral action?
Netanyahu has always stressed that Iran is not just the biggest problem facing Israel but the biggest problem facing the Western world. Iran is also a threat to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other countries terrified of the idea that the broader Middle East will be threatened by Iran. [A nuclear-armed Iran] will change the whole balance of power. The big challenge is to convince the Americans to share the challenge, to understand it’s not just an Israeli issue.
Israel is very strong, but a military operation of this sort cannot be undertaken by Israel alone. It must be done with the cooperation of America. Economic sanctions have to be involved. The whole free world has to be involved.
How do you view the Israeli public’s current attitude toward the two-state solution?
The Israeli public has gone through a shift [based on] disillusionment. If you would have asked three years ago, the best solution seemed to be disengagement, which means the Palestinians are there and we’re here and there’s a strong separation and everything will be OK. But the Gaza test case has shown everyone that they were running away from the problem, not solving it. Netanyahu has said [he will not be party to a solution] without the Palestinians first recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
But Abbas has refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and even if he were to do so, would such a statement coming from him be believable?
I think and believe that if the Palestinians really want to have peace it shouldn’t mean Israel has to withdraw from the settlements, because the settlements are part of our Jewish history. The Jews lived in Hebron, in Beit El. These are biblical places. Hebron is the place where King David began his kingdom. I don’t think it’s something we can let go, because what is Zionism all about? Zionism is really about going back to Zion, going back to Jerusalem, going back to all those biblical places. We need to start talking about the peace process without removing people from the settlements.
You are currently the only single, religious woman in the Knesset. Do you ever feel uncomfortable in this position?
No, because I think it’s temporary! My status at the moment gives me a lot of freedom to do what I’m doing because it’s many hours of hard work. B’ezrat Hashem I hope to get married soon and have a family and show everyone that it’s possible to be a religious woman with a family and do this very important shlichut [mission].