Op-Ed: A Talk With MK David Rotem, Head of Knesset's Law Comm.
Yisrael Beytenu MK David (Dudu to his friends) Rotem is a doer, a rightist and an observant Jew who lives in Efrat. He is in a secure spot on the joint Likud Beytenu list for the coming Knesset, with a strong record of accomplishment in his first term as MK. Arutz Sheva spoke to him about his accomplishments, frustrations and plans for his next term as a lawmaker.
Formerly the legal advisor to much of Judea and Samaria's regional authorities and municipalities, Rotem was known for getting things done and not mincing words about what he thinks. His legal experience and sharp mind made him a natural for the Knesset Law Committee which he headed in the outgoing Knesset and he worked hard to introduce new legistlation on burning issues such as conversion and marriage in Israel, the draft, loyalty oaths – especially when Israeli Arab Supreme Court Justice Joubran refused to sing Hatikva - transparency for NGO contributions and more.
Here is a glimpse into the opinions of an MK with strong visibility in Israeli society.
On the Role of Religious Zionism -I am in favor of religious Zionist people being in general parties, not sectorial ones. If you compare the number of religious people, the Likud is stronger religiously now than Bayit Yehudi, because we have a larger number of observant MK's in the outgoing Knesset than they have.
I do not define religious Zionists as those who fight against other Jews, who accuse hareidim of avoiding responsibility or not working. We have to work together.
On a Palestinian Arab State – Although PM Netanyahu offered one, there won't be one, not because we don't want it – and I don't - but because they don't want it. They won't agree to the Quartet's offer, to our Bar Ilan speech or to what we expect from them. They won't agree to our being a Jewish state, to ending the conflict, to giving up the "right of return". The truth is, they are afraid of a state, of responsibility.
Anyway, historically, what prevented them from declaring a state before 1967? In their covenant, it actually says that they don't demand a state in Judea and Samaria or Gaza, they want it inside the 1948 Armistice Lines. Forget it.
Naftali Bennett of Jewish Home wants to annex Area C of Judea and Samaria and give them independence in Areas A and B. It won't work.
On the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party- Their average age is 40, according to a spokesman of theirs with whom I appeared in Beit Shemesh. I would rather look for someone with experience to help run this complex country.
But they are our natural partners. All the rumors about Bibi and Bennett's falling out are false. The only problem is that we can't live with a situation where they can threaten the coalition on issues beyond the nationalistic ones on which we are agreed, Likud needs to be strong to be able to function as the leading party and run the country.
On the Oslo Accords - I was in the army because I fought to be in it (Rotem is a victim of polio at a young age and walks with a limp). My wife called the Chief of Staff for me and asked them to accept me after the Yom Kippur War and I worked as a volunteer IDF litigator. But when, as part of the Oslo Accords, they started freeing the terrorists I had put behind bars, I quit. Terorists don't change, I said. Tragically, 1600 murdered Jews proved that I was correct.
And the Disengagement – I wasn't yet in the Knesset, but I opposed it strongly. We see the terrible results, a disaster, there's nothing to talk about.
On Construction in Judea and Samaria – As soon as the new government is formed, it will adopt the Levy Report that legalizes construction because, as is known to those who want the truth, there is no "occupation" legally. I fought Dalya Sasson's earlier report , made at the behest of then PM Ariel Sharon, that said that most of the construction in Judea and Samaria was illegal and I paid heavily for that stance. I had been appointed the IDF counsel for the entire area , but when I fought her report, then Attorney General Mazuz told me that I can't build illegally and also be IDF counsel.
It was rather amusing, Rotem continues with a smile. The next day, a case was heard, and the judge ruled that everything was legal, because the new prosecutor was afraid to go to the area and see for himself. They asked me to come back on Sunday.
Adopting the Levi Report – We will build everywhere because when the Europeans and the USA and the rest of the world yell about it, they mean Jerusalem – Gilo and Ramot – as well, and we can't find favor in their eyes anyway. It won't help them to condemn us, but we need a strong PM with a large party behind him so he is not at the mercy of his coalition. I don't want Lapid or Shas and Aguda to have the power to bargain on those issues.
Conversion Controversy– I believe the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinates must have the power to convert, not a National Conversion Authority as there is today, which is a source of conflict and headlines.
I would like to see the Nativ program for conversion in the IDF to expect would-be converts to be serious about keeping the commandments and have their adoptive families emphasize that. My daughter worked in that program, so we had groups over at our house.
The law I had worked on to switch conversion to local rabbinic authorities under the Chief Rabbinate's supervision was already scheduled for its Knesset vote, but the Reform and Conservative movements opposed it. I went to the United States to talk to them and they attacked me. The Jewish Agency invited me to speak and it was like facing a firing squad. They accused me of ruining things, barely let me talk. The head of Federation bore me out when I told the PM how it went. It's not surprising that they reacted that way. I told them that Reform rabbis are not rabbis. I told them there was no conversion without accepting the Torah and mitzvoth. That there are no shortcuts.
They brought 100 of their important members to Bibi Netanyahu and Adelson and Lauder sent him letters and, consequently, the law was put aside.
But you know me, I have not given up and will try again in the next Knesset.
However, I am against allowing religious judges to check up on converts years later and decide to rescind conversions. Actually, Rav Goren did do that at one point while Rav Eliashiv did write that you can't cancel conversion – so it is a point of dispute. Rabbi Sherman ( the hareidi rabbinic judge who accused Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman of non-acceptable conversions because some of the converts did not intend to keep the commandments, in his opinion, and tried to reverse their conversions, ed.) did what Rabbi Goren did, except that Rabbi Goren proved the convert he reversed actually attended church.
On Marriage Laws in Israel – there is an article by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Bakshi Doron saying that because of the Israeli law on halakhic marriages there are too many mamzerim (children born of a halakhically married woman's infidelity; they are allowed only to marry others in the same category, ed) . People leave their spouses and don't divorce, live with someone else and have children who are halakhically outside the fold. It is a terrible situation. Some rabbis suggested we should have non-kosher witnesses at secular weddings to prevent the marriage from being halakhic, but that is cheating the couple. An alternative is that they can sign that they don't want a halakhic marriage (kiddushin) and then their children can marry without limitations and they don't need a divorce if they want to live with someone else. But then they can't go to rabbinic courts for money for alimony because that would give their dissolved marriage standing.
I will be working on that again in the next Knesset. It is a national problem.
On his party head, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman's indictment – I won't talk about the issue, there are people who know much more about it, I am not an insider on that and on why he ousted Danny Ayalon. As a lawyer, I don’t' like to talk about what I don't know in depth.
What raises questions is the timing of the law enforcement agencies, coincidentally just one month before the elections after over ten years of investigations – they did exactly the same thing before the last elections and that raises a certain doubt….
What about your demand for Loyalty Oaths and Arab MK Zouabi's ousting from the Knesset list being revoked by the Supreme Court? This is a Jewish and Zionist state. Those who don't want to recognize that, but want to be citizens cannot be accepted. This country is a joint venture. Everyone should be expected to declare loyalty to the state and most Israeli Arabs, who know they have the good life here, would do it except that their MK's won't let them.
The Supreme Court is not quite there yet, but it is slowly changing in our [nationalist] favor. I supported getting Chief Justice Grunis in to head it, even though the competition with him was Likud.
Draft for hareidim – I suggested an alternative service law. If I have to compare he who sacrifices himself on the battlefield with someone who sacrifices himself in the Beit Midrash, I prefer the soldier. I don't want to draft hareidim specifically. I want to draft everyone, also Arabs, into national service.
I am close to the hareidi community, I once defended the previous Satmar Rebbe in the courts and when he came to Israel, the hassidim made way for me to be able to get close to him and greet him. He gave my son a gift.
Arutz Sheva notes: There is a picture of a smiling, young Gerrer hassid ina spudik (hassidic fur hat, ed.) with two soldiers on either side of him on the wall in Rotem's office. He explained that all three were in the IDF, but that the soldiers asked the hassidic one to show them his Shabbat dress and he did. That's how Rotem would like to see the IDF.