On Yom Kippur 1995, just a few weeks before the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, I made the decision to go into politics. At that time, the country was divided into two hostile camps – the land of Israel camp versus the peace camp. I felt that my own voice was not heard, my own position was not represented: I believed in our right to this land but I also believed in the need for a just, responsible settlement to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic. I looked at my two young sons, then aged eight and five, and came to the conclusion that it was my duty to act so that I could leave them a safe and secure country where they could live in dignity and be proud of its values. And so I went into politics.
This past Yom Kippur, five months after I left the Knesset, I sat with my family during the fast and told my sons – now young men – that today, as the Israeli public is heading to the voting booths, I feel the calling again. That’s because many Israelis share my sense that the country’s situation is taking a turn for the worse; there isn’t a truly compelling figure – either personally or ideologically – one can support for the post of prime minister, and there is no one representing our position on issues critical to Israel’s future.
“So run,” they said to me. “Fight for us. We’re too young, we don’t have the skills it takes, but you do.”
This conversation has stayed with me ever since. The truth is that it’s tough going back to politics. But when my younger son, today a commanding officer in the paratroopers, went south in the Pillar of Defense operation, I texted him my decision to fight in my arena – politics – so that in the future, he might not have to fight on his front – the battlefield.
So I’m here to fight.
I went into this battle at the end of a justified military operation against Hamas; after tough days in which the citizens of Israel had to endure massive missile attacks targeting not only southern Israel but also Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. During this time residents had to experience, if only briefly, the terror that had become commonplace for the people of Sderot and the many kibbutzim and moshavim of the south.
I hope for all of our sakes that we will finally have peace and quiet but I’m afraid that while Hamas may have been weakened militarily it has grown stronger politically. After four years of arrogance, the painful price of the government’s wrong-headed policies is becoming clear. Everything has been stood on its head: The government negotiates with terrorists yet freezes talks with those who work to prevent terrorist attacks on us. This is the exact opposite of the message we ought to be sending in this tough neighborhood where we live.
This policy has led to a situation in which Israel’s government, which refused to promote the two-state solution in order to preserve the Jewish state, in fact helped create two Palestinian states: a Palestinian state in the U.N. against our wishes and another Palestinian state – the state of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The citizens of the State of Israel deserve better. They deserve more than life between rounds of violence. I’ve come to fight for Israel. I’m not fighting against anything – I’m fighting for all of us. It’s time to drop the discourse of fear and threats by external enemies and replace it with talk of hope and unity and a shared vision within.
I’ve come to fight for peace, a sane peace. I will not support anyone who thinks peace is a dirty word.
I’ve come to fight for security – not security consisting of bombastic speeches but of international backing so that the army can bring its force to bear when it must.
I’ve come to fight for a Jewish state, where Judaism is a national matter of shared values rather than a political monopoly.
I’ve come to fight for a democratic Israel, where all citizens, men and women, without regard for nationality or religion, are equal, an enlightened and progressive Western nation.
I’ve come to fight for those serving in the army and national service so they don’t have to bear the burden alone.
I’ve come to fight for the young who want to live here and deserve to be able to earn a living with dignity and live in their own homes without having to enslave themselves and their parents.
I’ve come to fight for closing social gaps starting with education that extends equal opportunity and a shared vision for all.
It isn’t always possible to attain all the goals at once but they’re worth fighting for.
It won’t be easy. The region is changing. It will be tough with a deficit of more than NIS 39 billion shekels, yet another sign of this government’s irresponsibility. But I believe it is necessary and possible. If we don’t make a change now, it will be even harder in the future. The combination of political changes across our borders and the demographic changes within them will cause the window of opportunity to slam shut.
Many have given up on this election cycle, but I decided not to allow an election to take place without an ideological and personal alternative for the post of prime minister. I decided to run and offer an alternative for those who have no one to vote for. Standing in the voting booth is not something to be taken lightly. It’s where citizens place their trust for their future and the future of their children. The ballot mustn’t be one of despair but one of hope.
I stood by Ariel Sharon’s side when we founded Kadima, which brought hope to many. Hatnua, our new party has brought together leaders from across Israel’s political spectrum to restore that hope. It’s the only one that can do so. It will have room for the people representing the very best of the Likud who were ousted during the recent primaries, leaving the political party into which I was born an extremist front where liberal, moderate Zionism has no home.
During those primaries, Netanyahu lost in his own party. He can still lose Tuesday’s election. This victory will be for all of us who believe that hope can triumph over fear. That the state of Israel can be the kind of country we dream of for our children.