Yesh Atid Minister Challenges Party Leader over 'Greater Israel'

In the debate between right and left, there is room for both social activism and love of the Land of Israel, says Yesh Atid's Shai Piron.

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Moshe Cohen,

Shai Piron speaking at Ariel University
Shai Piron speaking at Ariel University
Yoni Kempinski

Speaking Thursday, Education Minister Shai Piron said that Israel needed to retain its vision of the Complete Land of Israel. Piron, speaking to a large group at the University of Ariel, said that Israel "cannot continue to agree to limiting our great vision. For me, paradoxically, the vision of the Complete Land of Israel will strengthen the connection between our young people and the Land's borders."

In his speech, Piron was addressing one of the great rifts in Israeli society. Leftists often accuse supporters of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria of taking money that should be used for the poor and needy and "wasting it" on buildings and roads that will eventually be surrendered to the Palestinians anyway. According to Labor MK Stiv Shafir, "government money being wasted on settlements" is a prime reason why there is no money for the poor.

Leaders of the right consider this to be a very short-sighted and cynical attitude.

"It's time to put an end to the cheap demagoguery of the left" which blames every problem in Israel on "the settlers," said Samaria Council head Gershon Mesika. "For the information of those on the left who are looking under rocks for money to solve the problem of poverty: Israel invests a lot less in the residents of Judea and Samaria than in residents of the rest of the country."

In fact, said MK Moshe Feiglin, the Oslo Accords, not Israeli "settlements," are the real drain on Israel’s budget. In a Knesset address, Feiglin said "As a resident of the settlements I decided to look for the money, in order to give it back. I have an announcement: I found the money. I found 453 billion shekels. This is the cost of the 'brilliant' idea of dividing the land and of the Oslo Accords," Feiglin declared. "This is the cost of adopting a leftist ideology for the past 20 years."

Piron's vision, he said, obviates the one that is usually put forth by those seeking territorial compromise and concession in the hope of making peace with the Palestinians, and those seeking to ensure a Jewish presence in the historic homeland of the Jewish people, which includes all of Judea and Samaria. "There are those who seek to emphasize the contradictions: Either you can be 'Jewish' or you can be 'Liberal,'" with the former seeking to retain all of Judea and Samaria, and the latter prepared to concede some or all of it.

"There are those who believe that we must choose between borders and ensuring society's welfare. But I say that only a full engagement with all parts of the culture – both borders and social welfare – will actualize the vision of a rooted, Jewish society, and a democratic society that retains our traditions, while embracing modern values and innovation," said Piron.

Piron's vision puts him at odds with Yair Lapid, the head of his own Yesh Atid party. Speaking in the Knesset last year, Lapid said that right-wing politicians like Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett "turned the settlements in Judea and Samaria into another extortionate sector that takes the money from the middle class just because it can. I think that the settlers are Israeli patriots, but it's precisely because of this that they need to understand that the budget cuts will not skip over them. They should bear the burden like the entire Israeli middle class. If we're brothers, then we're also brothers when it comes to the economy."

More recently, Lapid reiterated his opinion that Israel should unilaterally uproot all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria which fall outside of the so-called "major settlement blocs".

But Piron insisted that both left and right could live together in harmony, at least on this issue. “These differences can actually unite us. They require us to sit together and and join all together – the center and the periphery, Jews from the east (Sephardim) and west (Ashkenazim), those who see social action as a basis for society, and those who care for the Land of Israel. The vision of the Complete Land of Israel must bring everyone together,” Piron said.