Head to Head / Eldad Yaniv, as a Leftist Lawyer How Can You Represent the Settlement of Ariel?

In 2009 Yaniv and playwright Shmuel Hasfari wrote 'The National Left,' a manifesto that is critical of what it calls the decline of the Israeli left and offers a prescription for its revival.

Eldad Yaniv is an attorney and a political activist. In 2009 he and playwright Shmuel Hasfari wrote "The National Left," a manifesto that is critical of what it calls the decline of the Israeli left and offers a prescription for its revival. They propose a nation, patriotic left that serves in the army and ejects draft dodgers, but withdrawing from the territories occupied in 1967 are also part of their prescription for healing Israel.

Attorney Eldad Yaniv, Yuval Tebol, Nov. 2010
Yuval Tebol

Yaniv was a reporter for and editor of the army magazine Bamahane. He studied law and interned for Dov Weissglas. He was in Ehud Barak's inner circle during the 1999 election campaign and served as the prime minister's bureau chief after the election. Yaniv later became legal adviser to the Labor Party. In 2007 he led the campaign that restored Barak as party chairman, but left in a well-publicized breakup.

Eldad Yaniv, you are the legal adviser to the Ariel municipality. At the same time, you wrote a critical essay against the settlements. Isn't there something of a double standard here?

"The firm in which I am a partner, along with two other partners who I think vote Likud, was chosen by the city council to provide legal services to Ariel, in return for NIS 40,000 a month. The firm was selected despite the fact that I shout out against and fight for an end to the occupation, because otherwise the state will be binational. I advise clients not to choose us for our political views and to opt for lawyers who provide outstanding professional service."

No construction is taking place in Ariel now, but speaking theoretically, were it to resume would your firm also provide consultation on planning and construction issues? Are you comfortable with that?

"The firm charges the Ariel municipality a fixed retainer, whether or not there's a moratorium on construction. I long for the occupation to end. Ariel will continue to be a settlement so long as [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] Bibi and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman lead the country. When the Zionist left leads the country, Ariel will be part of Israel and Ofra will be part of Palestine."

How do you define a bloc? Ariel is a "finger" deep inside the territory and separates Salfit from Nablus. By your thinking, any community permitted to build enough to reach a population of 20,000 residents will be called a bloc.

"In order for Israel to remain Jewish and democratic, it must be divided, 78 percent to Israel and 22 percent to Palestine. Israel will have to compensate the Palestinians, one for one, for all territory it annexes due to demographic changes. This means that part of what we call settlement blocs will remain sovereign [territory] and some of our ancestral lands will be in Palestine. I'm among those who think that Ariel can be part of the state and can stop being a settlement if we divide Israel. If we do not divide it, Ariel will be part of a binational state that will be Israstine."

The Samaria Residents Committee today sent a letter to Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman demanding your dismissal over your political views.

"If the Ariel city council chooses a legal adviser based on his political views, then I really am not suited to the job. If it chooses a law firm based on its professionalism, then it must decide if we are the right firm. I will not change my political views and will continue to voice them in order to save Israel, even if I pay a price and even if my firm loses some of its clients. Israel's future is more important than my law firm."

What do you think of the performing artists' boycott of Ariel?

"I personally oppose boycotts. If it were up to me I would act differently. Two weeks ago I was in Kedumim, and were I invited I would be more than happy to come to Ariel's cultural center to talk about the national left. I'm among those who think Israelis' hearts must be opened in order to end the occupation."

As counsel for the city, do you think there is anything it can do about the boycott?

"If Hasfari, my good friend who is like a big brother to me, sues the Cameri Theater [as he has threatened to do if Cameri performs a play he wrote in Ariel] and the municipality wants to join, I will recuse myself on the grounds of conflict of interest. Because of my friendship with him I don't think I'm the right person to offer him legal advice, whatever it may be."

What do you think of the calls to withhold budgets from public bodies that refuse to perform in Ariel?

"I wish the Israeli government would fund cultural events. Its support for culture is minuscule. The theaters live off box office sales and subscriptions. [Culture and Sports Minister Limor] Livnat is throwing sand in the public's eyes when she says they'll suspend allocations. So what, you'd think they support the theaters. They support the ultra-Orthodox more. If Lieberman or Bibi or Livnat want to save the country they must divide the land and end the occupation. By attacking performers instead of working toward partition will lead to a situation where within a few years Israel will be binational, and then its prime minister will be [the Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip] Ismail Haniyeh, not Bibi. And the foreign minister will not be Lieberman and none of them will be Zionist."

Who do you support for Labor Party chairman?

"I'm not a party member but am trying to set up a national left, to establish a large, broad and patriotic national left. In my opinion, it doesn't matter who wins in Labor. It's a party with a tremendous legacy, a questionable present and an unclear future."

Is Ehud Barak suitable for this position?

"He is unfit to continue in the political life of the country. He is a man with an illustrious past, an Israeli hero, but he is unfit to play a role in public life."