Head to Head / MK Tzipi Hotovely, Do You Regret Speaking Out Against a Deal for Gilad?

Hotovely claims has 'no regrets', says discussion about Shalit in Israel and the media today is 'extremely one dimensional'.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud ) heads the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women. In a few days she will present, at the request of the prime minister, a memorandum to the Trajtenberg Committee on social reform on deficiencies in applying the free Preschool Law. According to Hotovely, legislation side-stepping bureaucracy is needed to treat the country's shortage of preschool classrooms. Last year, she led the fight against raising of retirement age for women. On Sunday, she agitated activists from the headquarters for the release of Gilad Shalit when she spoke against a deal to swap Hamas prisoners for the kidnapped soldier at the marking of his 25th birthday.

MK Hotovely, do you regret speaking at the rally marking Gilad Shalit's birthday to an audience of activists for his release and publicly expressing opposition to a deal?

I have no regrets. Not only was this not a mistake, it was important to me, from my point of view, to show respect for the family and the headquarters for his release - which invited me. I thought this a courageous and correct act, to say that there are other ways to bring about Gilad's release and to praise them. The discussion in Israel and the media today is extremely one dimensional. You are either for Gilad's release and support a deal, or you are opposed. I came to say exactly the opposite: Not only do we, those who are opposed to a deal, care that Gilad will return, most of the public would like to see him returned by exerting other pressures on Hamas.

But the media depicted your decision to say these things - precisely in front of the activists in Shalit headquarters - as the steps of a bull in a china shop, an inappropriate act that incited their protest.

The rally received unfair coverage. For many long minutes, I said things without any interference, and my suggestions were even applauded. People in the audience were glad to hear my recommendations to stop the flow of money to Hamas, worsen the conditions of Hamas prisoners and renew targeted assassinations. Some of the importance of my presence at the rally was to create a consensus saying that if a deal does not take place, we cannot simply sit on our hands. I believe that a deal will only strengthen Hamas' position with the Palestinian public. Hamas was elected under the slogan 'What 30 years of negotiations failed to achieve, we will gain in three years of struggle,' and they really have.

We need to view the situation also from the perspective of Hamas' actions toward the citizens in the communities of the south [of Israel]. We must act more strongly against Hamas, not only with regard to Gilad Shalit. Everyone knows that the [current] quiet is deceptive. I'm not here as a security adviser, but there definitely is a public problem. It is unbearable to think that a million citizens are in danger of their lives, within reach of rockets, and the government of Israel responds limply.

These are not empty words. I am working on this via parliamentary means. I have presented a bill that would stop the transfer of funds to the Gaza Strip while it is led by a terror organization. The bill says that funds can be transferred only in the form of goods, and not in cash.

If so, do you agree with Kadima's criticism of the Netanyahu government for not setting out on a broad military campaign against the terror movements in Gaza?

There is no bigger hypocrisy than Kadima's attempts in recent weeks to look like a right-wing party. It is, after all, a party without an ideology. Only six months ago, [MK] Shaul Mofaz [of Kadima] called for talks with Hamas. Kadmia carried out the disengagement and uprooting [from Gaza], and now it's a big hero demanding unlimited military action. These types of actions brought us the Goldstone report and its like. When the world restricts Israel's ability to wage war in self-defense, we have to act more wisely. It is clear to us that the Palestinians demand a state. We must remind the world that Fatah and Hamas became allies in Cairo. When [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] makes a blood pact like this, where the Palestinian Authority stands today is clear to us.

You said earlier that Israel must not respond limply.

Aggression does not necessarily mean a broad military campaign. It is possible to attack from the air, to hit the leaders of Hamas in targeted assassinations. This, in hindsight, was possible from the beginning, so Hamas wouldn't be motivated to hurt us - as a deterrent.

You have criticized the Netanyahu government on its handling of the Shalit matter, Gaza and the social protest. At the same time you are a member of [Netanyahu's] party.

I am not afraid to criticize the government, but my criticism is long range, not necessarily against the current government. Immediate action was not taken after the Shalit kidnapping. Operation Cast Lead was not completed, and the call to continue until Gilad was returned went unanswered. I'm not relieving the current government of its responsibility. As a member of the coalition, I support it. It's very good in many areas. But I don't see alternative actions in the Shalit story. I see the prime minister standing up to very significant public pressure, and against a disastrous deal that will bring back crime and terror. We must hear the prime minister say, 'These are the alternative things we are doing to bring about Shalit's release.'

You have sharp criticism of the government's functioning in the socioeconomic area. Is the tent protest justified? Is it possible to bring about a significant change in Israel's social agenda?

As a Knesset member, I am painted in right-wing colors. This happened because of burning political issues, but overshadows my activities in the social arena. In general, I think that the protest raised at least two genuine issues requiring thorough treatment: housing and preschool education. It happened that for a long period I accompanied the crisis over free preschool education, as head of the Committee on the Status of Women.

What is the problem in implementing the long school day? Is this a budget problem?

On this matter, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry behaves scandalously. The NIS 140 million budgeted for the building of day nurseries is just sitting there. Not one shekel has actually been used because of twisted bureaucratic mechanisms that do not allow the local authorities to build. This creates a great lack of nurseries. The slogan 'free preschool education' is not worth much if there are no nursery classrooms. There's no logic in a world where it costs NIS 2,000 a month [for infant's preschool] of one or two years of age, twice the amount of tuition for university students. It's absurd. A student can work for a living or receive a scholarship or participate in Perah [a tutoring program which reduces tuition costs]. As a young MK, I see my friends collapsing under the strain; they can't get public dormitory rooms because the dorms are overcrowded. The real revolution will occur when all these matters are transferred from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to the Education Ministry. The former is not qualified to deal with education and views it all from the prism of hiring women and occupation. This produces a faulty conception of preschool education, according to which preschools are a babysitting service, and not educational institutions. My mother is a day nursery teacher. Those who are involved in this sensitive field earn NIS 3,000 [a month]. The social protest has not raised the issue of the tiny salaries so many professionals, women among them, receive.