Yaakov "Ketzaleh" Katz, National Union party
Yaakov "Ketzaleh" Katz, National Union party Israel news photo: Sasson Tiram

“We will bring smiles back to the faces of those who cherish the Land of Israel,” says National Union party leader Yaakov "Ketzaleh" Katz in an exclusive interview with B'Sheva Magazine.

Translated by Rochel Sylvetsky

  • The new leader of the National Union Party is proud of the fact that the list of candidates he heads unites four Zionist parties.
  • He predicts at least ten Knesset seats for the National Union, which he defines as the only party that presents a clear, unequivocal message of faithfulness to the Land of Israel as well as concentrating on welfare and educational needs.
  • All his friends from his old Shaked Commando Unit have promised to vote for him. He calls on other non-observant voters who love their country to join them.

Just a few minutes spent at the modest Tekumah faction office near the entrance to Jerusalem are enough to dispel the breakaway image ascribed to them for leaving the recently-formed Jewish Home party. “Unity” is a more apt description of what is happening at the renewed National Union Party.  Representatives of the four parties that make up the candidate list are shaking hands, slapping one another on the back and smiling. Dr. Arye Eldad and Baruch Merzel have just finished a meeting, Uri Ariel is gathering young and older party activists for afternoon prayers, “Moledet” and “Tekumah” faction representatives are busy discussing division of budgets and responsibilities.

National Union Party Leader Yaakov "Ketzaleh" Katz
Israel news photo: Sasson Tiram

Their motivation is tangible, electrifying—and contagious. Overseeing it all is the new leader of the party, the charismatic Yaakov Katz, affectionately known as “Ketzaleh,” who until now headed the Beit El Yeshiva institutions and the Arutz Sheva broadcast network. Also on his resume, Ketzaleh was a Shaked Commando unit officer who lost part of his leg in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, senior advisor to Housing Minister Ariel Sharon during the period when Sharon promoted extensive building in Judea and Samaria, composer of Chassidic songs, founder of the town of Beit El and father of seven. Those who know Ketzaleh are not surprised to see how naturally he puts his considerable rhetorical skills, energies and proven abilities into political leadership.

Ketzaleh considers leading the battle to preserve Israel's territorial integrity and build up the Land to be the most important issue on his agenda, one he feels has been neglected by all other parties. 

During our interview, however, he also discussed coping with the Hamas in Gaza, allocations for religious educational institutions, raising child allowances and finding ways to define the High Court’s jurisdiction.

First and foremost, Ketzaleh emphasized, that his leadership stems from belief in the wisdom of Torah Sages. He describes the path he took from the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva to the Yeshiva in Beit El, under the guidance of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s close student, Rabbi Zalman Melamed. Ketzaleh talks of his deep relationship with former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel Mordecai Eliyahu, Hevron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior and noted scholar Rabbi Chaim Shteiner. The party he leads has accepted Rabbis as its guides, a policy that Ketzaleh believes is the only way to succeed.

Calls To Head The List From All Directions

B'Sheva: What led to your agreeing to head the National Union party?

Ketzaleh: “The decision was the result of pressure from Rabbinic figures, foremost among them Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, through his son Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu. When I visited Rabbi Eliyahu, he quoted the words of the angel to Gideon in the book of Judges: 'Go forward with the strength you have and you will save the People of Israel.' His words accompany my every step. In addition, there is my mentor Rabbi Zalman Melamed, to whom I have been close for many years. Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef (son of Shas party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) as well as non-observant public figures such as Dr. Arye Eldad and others also turned to me, feeling that the Land of Israel issue had been put aside in the failed attempt to unite the parties that were to form the 'Jewish Home.'

"I am not a typical politician. In my work over the years, I had to be well aware of political affairs, but did not take active part in them. I was a close advisor of Arik [Ariel] Sharon during his good years, even serving as his personal advisor on settlement when he was Minister of Housing [1990-1992]. Way before that, Arik’s ranch was my “home away from home.

“I have always been closely involved with politics and public service in various ways. I established the Arutz Sheva communications network, which touches on politics without being political, deals in depth with Torah issues and real accomplishments, political, military and general affairs, but never held political office and never aspired to. It was important to me to effect change and being a politician is not the only way to do this.  However, all the political parties who promote the Land of Israel issue were willing to unite if I assumed leadership and convinced me to listen to the SOS signals sent my way.

"The Land of Israel is up for humiliating barter in the hands of politicians who do not hold the Land dear to their hearts. I decided to accept this challenge in order to represent the lovers of the Land of Israel who see it being given away bit by bit. I am glad I did so, now that one can see everyone working together here so unselfishly for this idealistic cause. Our goal is to reach a position of strength with at least ten mandates. After all, in the last elections the National Union party and the National Religious Party together got nine seats. We hope to reap votes from the Likud after the Likud party moved [Land of Israel loyalist] Moshe Feiglin down to 36th place, and from other parties whose leaders fear promoting Israel's territorial integrity such as Avigdor Lieberman and others. I believe that under my leadership, supported entirely by our Torah Sages, we will succeed in rallying an uplifted, united, idealistic constituency.

The Land Of Israel Comes First

In your first press conference, you spoke about being an party for the Land of Israel. What about the Torah and the People of Israel?

Ketzaleh: "For years, the Israeli media has intentionally made talking about the Land of Israel off limits. If you mention love of the Land of Israel, you are simply not “in.”  That is why we are consciously emphasizing it and putting it at the head of our platform, but we will certainly concentrate on education and Torah. Everyone, including the secular candidates on our list, knows that the Book of Books is the basis of our being here, everyone who has seen [number two candidate] Uri Ariel and I in action knows that we put great efforts into promoting education, welfare and ethics, but the Shas and Agudah religious parties do too.

We are the only ones fighting for the Land of Israel, while the others have already tacitly given it up. Shas talks about Jerusalem because they have already sold out on the regions of Judea and Samaria. The Agudah party was a partner to the 2005 Disengagement catastrophe that brought the rockets upon us in the South.  The public knows that we can be relied on here, that we will never tell them the day after the elections that 'what can be seen from here cannot be seen from there' (Ariel Sharon’s excuse for actions that were the diametric opposite of his campaign promises).

B'Sheva: How will you advance the cause of the Land of Israel in the Knesset?

Ketzaleh: When I was Ariel Sharon’s assistant in the Housing Ministry, we built three billion dollars worth of settlements, including sixty thousand housing units in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights. We helped all the institutions that were connected to Torah, including the hareidi sector. This is our field of expertise, and we intend to continue it in the upcoming Knesset.

B'Sheva: The public perceives the National Religious Party as the party that cares about funds for religious education. Will the National Union party under your leadership also do so?

Ketzaleh: The National Union Knesset members in the previous Knesset, Tzvi Hendel and Uri Ariel, were among those who worked successfully to obtain budgets for religious education. Not that MK’s Orlev and Slomiansky didn’t work hard, but not more than Uri and Tzvi did, or more than Chanan Porat and Rabbi Yitzchak Levy during their periods in the Knesset.  Heads of educational institutions remember me from the days in the Housing Ministry and know our talents on those issues. I believe that the Land of Israel will blossom and that education will blossom with her.”

The Shaked Commando Unit Soldiers Join

If Netanyahu forms the next coalition, he may do it with Kadima and Labor. Are you afraid he will leave you outside?

Ketzaleh: “That could happen. I don’t completely rely on Bibi [Netanyahu], but in order to form a coalition, one doesn’t have to be the largest party, only the one that can form a government with the largest bloc. The more votes the National Union gets, the more it will be impossible for the head of the government to function without us. That is why we must be a central factor in this bloc, one that cannot be ignored. I did not enter this campaign for 5-6 mandates, but because I felt that if we could win 9 seats in the past election, we can get to more than ten now.”

B'Sheva: You have only 40 days to campaign. Isn’t that too little time for electoral achievement?

Ketzaleh: “Sometimes a short span of time is all for the good. People have succeeded in effecting revolutions in a short time when there was a mass awakening. I receive hundreds of telephone calls at all hours from religious and non-religious people who say: Ketzaleh, you have returned the smile to our faces. You have given us hope, we feel we have someone to turn to.

"My friends from my commando unit called me. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Patzi (Amatsia Chen), a non observant kibbutznik from Huldah, called to say: I don’t usually vote, but when I saw that Ketzaleh’s at the head, I will vote for him. All the Shaked Commandoes will vote Ketzaleh. You cannot imagine the joy in the settlements, the calls we’ve received, all because we have stopped the doubletalk and raised the flag of the Land of Israel, and we are not afraid of the media and will not bend to their whims.

There is a great awakening and thousands will come out to help us and work together, but first we must believe that we can win and bring a new message to our people. The organization, seriousness and self sacrifice of our group that works day and night is self evident, for otherwise we might lose the Land of Israel, G-d forbid.”

For the continuation of this article, click here for Part Two

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