Shelly Yachimovich
Shelly Yachimovich speaking at a Labor Party meeting. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Prospective Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich has defended her party's role in the establishment of the settlements, saying, "I certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime." In an interview to be published in Haaretz Magazine Friday, MK Yachimovich added, "In its time, it was a completely consensual move. And it was the Labor Party that founded the settlement enterprise in the territories. That is a fact. A historical fact."

The interview took place against the backdrop of her candidacy to head the Labor Party and the proliferation of tent protest camps across the country, with Yachimovich addressing the settlement issue, her public image and the long-term prospects for her party.

What do you make of the fact that the settlers joined the protest? Do you welcome them, does it make you happy?

"Yes, unequivocally. One of the most significant points of strength of this protest is that you don't see the conventional political posters. There is a new language, a unifying language, a uniting language."

But if the billions that were invested in the settlements had been invested inside the Green Line, maybe we wouldn't need the tents.

"I am familiar with that well-known equation: that if there were no settlements there would be a welfare state within Israel's borders. I am familiar with the worldview that maintains that if we cut the defense budget in half there will be money for education. It's a worldview with no connection to reality."

When it was pointed out that it is part of current public discourse to suggest that less funding for West Bank settlements and defense would mean more money for social service needs, Yachimovich said: "I reject it; it is simply not factually correct, even though it is now perceived as axiomatic. A school that is located in a settlement and has X number of students would be located inside the Green Line and have the same number of children at the same cost. I don't say that the settlements themselves did not cost more money. But even if the defense budget were cut in half, and even if the settlement costs were cut in half, the economic ideology that led us to them would not seek to divert the newly available funds to the service of the state.

""Both [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert constantly spoke about thinning out the public service. Netanyahu said that the education system is a fat cow that doesn't give milk. When you consider that there is a fat man and a fat cow that doesn't give milk, you don't transfer budgets to them, period, because you think they should be thin or privatized. That is a Thatcherite approach which has nothing to do with the political right or left. What is happening now is so potent that it is shaking off the old discourse that shackles us to the same dogmas and the same rhetoric, but is finally connecting to the truth. Until now that truth has been kept hidden."

Would you buy products from the settlements, such as olive oil from Har Bracha? "Yes. I am not in favor of boycotts."

There has been long-term speculation that television personality and journalist Yair Lapid might enter politics. Although he has anyway denied any imminent plans, Yachimovich was dismissive of his stance: "Yair does not reflect a social-democratic agenda, but its complete opposite."

What about [former Shas party leader] Aryeh Deri? Will he be the big gainer from this earthquake? Does he deserve to return to politics? "It's very hard for me to accept the concept that a person who was convicted of criminal offenses will be a leader. We do not see contrition here. What we see is a rejection of the court's authority and the total absence of regret for what he did. [Deri spent almost two years in jail after accepting bribes while serving as the interior minister.] I find it very difficult to accept the return of someone like that to politics. People tell me, 'The public will decide'; 'He paid his debt to society'; 'He will be an essential political partner after the elections' - but that does not influence my position of principle that criminals should not be leaders. Isn't that self-evident?"

On Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and her party, Yachimovich said:

"Kadima is now in large measure a more economically neoliberal party than Likud. The dominant economic voice in Kadima is a privatizing one, a voice that protects the owners of capital. Take note than even on the natural gas issue, there was authentic opposition in Kadima to a redistribution of the profits from the gas.

"Livni is unequivocally a neoliberal - she was CEO of the government corporations authority. What we have here in large measure is a costume ball in which people who were totally alienated from economic and social problems, or did not deal with them, or did not discern a problem, or preferred, out of convenience, to focus only on political right-left issues are suddenly changing their rhetoric."

Yachimovich added: "Tzipi Livni intones 'two states for two nations' three times a day - not that she is spearheading any political breakthrough."

The leading candidate to head the Labor Party, Yachimovich also commented on her own public image.

Some people still find you antipathetic and you stir antagonism in them. Are you aware of that image?

"I see a great many polls and they suggest that I arouse not only esteem but also sentiments. A politician cannot act without generating emotion. The nuance of what you are saying implies simple chauvinism. That found expression in the well-known 'bad bad bad' of Rani Rahav [which is what the PR man called Yachimovich in a letter he published in the press]. It's a discourse aimed specifically at women. You will find it in every discussion where there is a woman who has reached a place where some do not want to see her. Even Tzipi Livni - a completely unthreatening and non-defiant politician, and also not a feminist - got the same treatment. I accept it with resignation."

When asked whether her goal is to become prime minister, Yachimovich said: "As a future vision, certainly; as a realistic goal, no. The head of the Labor Party will not be asked to form a government after the next elections. The Labor Party has a long way to go before it gains public trust, and it has to proceed on a true, deep, ideological and honest path. Not by hocus-pocus."