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More than 1200 guests of all ages crowded in the conference room of the Dan Panorama Hotel to listen to Lt. General (Res.) Benny Gantz, the IDF Former Chief of Staff and current Prime Minister Candidate for the Cachol Lavan Party (Blue and White Party).
The event with Gantz was just one of the election series of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, which started in February leading up to the Israeli elections on the 9th of April 2019.
Leading Israeli politicians from different parties were invited to speak in the Tel Aviv International Salon and address an English speaking International audience, consisting of English-speaking Israelis, mainly new immigrants, Olim Chadashim, and internationals in Tel Aviv.
The events enabled the politicians to present their own programs and answer the questions from the Times of Israel staff as well as to respond to the personal questions from the floor.
The election series began February 12th with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, co-founder of HaYemin HaHadash (The New Right Party), speaking to an audience of around 600 people.
Like in most of the events the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the main topics of the discussion. But Shaked also talked about her plans to limit the authority of the Supreme Court and clearly eliminated the option of a possible coalition with Benny Gantz´s Chosen LeIsrael Party (Israel Resilience Party, now the Blue and White Party with Yair Lapid and former Yesh Atid Party).
The second Tel Aviv International Salon hosted the MK Mossi Raz of Meretz, who filled in for the Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, who was at this time negotiating with the Avoda Party about a possible merger, which in the end did not work out.
Raz accused the right wing parties for making unprecedented gains on the basis of fear of immigrants and xenophobia. He introduced several new topics to the discussion such as the high number of young well educated Israelis leaving the country. He named the housing issue, the power of the rabbinate and the lack of public transportation on Shabbat and Holidays as issues that have to be discussed in order to keep the young Israelis in the country.
Shortly after the merger of Gantz´s Chosen LeIsrael and Yair Lapid´s Yesh Atid Party to the Cachol Lavan Party the Tel Aviv International Salon with Yair Lapid drew more than 500 young people to the crowded ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The main topic of the discussion was again the indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Lapid shared his worries with the audience. Although the Israeli democracy in his opinion had great resilience, he encouraged the young audience not to take it for granted, but to do everything in order to protect the democratic institutions.
The questions from the audience mainly regarded the lack of women on the top spots of the Cachol Lavan election list as well as the state of the economy. Lapid answered the question of a young immigrant from France who spoke of the thriving Israeli economy with a counter question: “If the economy is so great, how come you don´t feel it? How come the cost of living is so high?” Cachol Lavan therefore planned to cut the great amounts of money, which were currently spend on “unnecessary luxuries” such as the Prime Minister´s plane as well as to distribute the annual budget differently.
The next guest was the MK Yuli Edelstein, the current speaker of the Knesset and number one on the Likud election list after PM Netanyahu. Edelstein spoke about his role as the speaker of the Knesset as well as about the Israeli achievements with the USA officially describing the Golan Heights as “Israeli controlled” and not “occupied”. A few weeks later, this decision was followed by the official recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territories by the American President Trump. Edelstein believed that this would finally enhance a serious debate about annexing Judea and Samaria. Edelstein also spoke about his personal opposition of including Kahanists into the party list.
The questions from the floor mainly focused on Edelstein´s personal history and the loss of trust in democratic institutions, which in Edelstein´s opinion is a phenomena that can be witnessed all over the world.
Avi Gabbay, the chairman of the Avoda Party, addressed the audience at the Tel Aviv International Salon at the Ichud Olam Synagoge in Tel Aviv on March 3rd. He spoke about the long-awaited “deal of the century” which was announced by the American President Trump. Gabbay shared his opinion that he did not trust in the success of the American peace plan as true peace had to be found by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. The Avoda Party has also released a three step “separation plan” in order to separate from the territories. Still, Gabbay agreed with some people in the audience that there was currently no potential partner to implement this plan and to achieve peace in the region.
Other topics included public transportation, improving the hospital waiting times and promoting a separation of religion and state.
The last event of the Tel Aviv International Salon with Benny Gantz drew the greatest attention. Over 1200 people of all ages had gathered in the conference room to listen to the former IDF chief of staff and the plans of his Cachol Lavan Party.
Gantz spoke about the current state of emergency in which he sees the state of Israel. Despite of the many outer threats, Israel´s greatest challenge in recent times, in Gantz opinion, would come from the inside: The ongoing attacks of the Israeli government to the democratic institutions. In times when the office of the Prime Minister and the name of Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly became a synonym, Gantz pointed out that showing the Israeli voters an alternative was more important than ever before. Gantz presented the goals of his party as well the composition of the Cachol Lavan Party list, which for the first time in an Israeli election included a female ultra-orthodox and a female Druze candidate. The questions from the floor mainly focused on possible coalition partners as well as daily issues such as civil marriages and the public transportation on Shabbat. But also the personal attacks which Gantz was facing during the election campaign were part of the question session.
The election series of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Israel has contributed to link the top Israeli politicians with the young and international audience of the Tel Aviv International Salon. The election series has enabled a vivid discussion and exchange ahead of the 21st Knesset elections which will take place on the 9th of April 2019.