Erel Margalit is a second term Member of Knesset representing the Labor Party. His focus as a parliamentarian has been on pursuing collaborative approaches to promote economic development in Israel. He chairs the Knesset Task Force for Economic Development in the North and South and a Task Force aimed at integrating the ultra-orthodox and Arab-Israelis into the workforce.
Margalit has leveraged over 30 years of business experience in his public service. In the 1990s Margalit was appointed by Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek to oversee business development in the city. Returning to the private sector, Margalit founded one of the most successful venture capital funds in Israel, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), which has repeatedly been ranked in the top five venture capital firms in the world.
On April 28, Margalit briefed Ameinu activists, supporters and friends at a meeting, held at UJA-Federation of New York. He laid out his thoughts on Israel after the recent elections and issues of politics, economic development and the country’s future.
1. Ameinu: How do you see the 2015 Knesset election results in relation to the broader development of the Israel Labor Party?
Erel Margalit: While clearly I would have preferred a different outcome, I think we need to look at the last election as part of a longer-term process. We need to remember that under former Prime Minister Barak, Labor only had four seats. From this low point we understood that we needed to rebuild the Labor Party as a central movement in Israeli politics. We made progress under the leadership of Shelly Yachimovich getting to 15 seats and now with Isaac Herzog as our leader we, as leaders of the Zionist Union, are up to 24 seats. And I would note that I think the decision to unite with Tzipi Livni was a very promising move that it reinforces the idea that the Labor Party is creating a real Center-Left alternative to the policies of Bibi Nentanyahu and the Right.
2. Ameinu: What is your central vision for Israeli economic development, both in the private and governmental sectors?
Erel Margalit: In the private sector, in Jerusalem local government and now that I am in the Knesset, I have pursued a consistent strategy of economic development for Israel and economic empowerment for disadvantaged and vulnerable communities across the country. My core focus is always on building. Building for the sake of the country and the people.
I have wanted to make sure that the promise of Israel as the “Start Up Nation” is fulfilled. That is why I created Jerusalem Venture Partners, a fund which has helped over 100 Israeli companies get started. This type of work is the engine for Israel’s economic power and success for the future.
In Jerusalem I worked with Mayor Teddy Kollek to ensure that the nation’s capital not only was not left behind, but that it could be an incubator of technological innovation. Visitors may not realize, but Jerusalem is the poorest city in the country. This has to change so we worked hard to create a tech hub in Jerusalem that launched more than 70 companies in the region.
Similarly, I entered national politics because the economic reality of our country is not acceptable or sustainable. We have massive economic inequality, massive child poverty and huge sectors of the country that remain hopeless. Whole regions in the periphery, including the Negev and Galil, the Arab Israeli community and the Haredi population are all left out.
To address these challenges, I have championed a focus on building hubs of innovation and empowerment around the country. We created a major cyber-security hub to build in the Negev and to help make Beersheva a true center of excellence. In the North we are looking at agriculture and bio-tech as the driver of creating a new center of excellence for the region that brings together kibbutzim, moshavim, cities and villages to strengthen the economy for the benefit of all of the residents – Jews and Arabs – of this region.
And I want to stress that we have to prioritize the Arab and Haredi communities – over 30% of the country’s citizens – for special empowerment activities. Regarding the Arab community, their success can play a key role for Israel domestically and as a bridge to our neighbors as well. But it all starts with jobs and opportunity. And with the Haredi community, we need to build a strategic partnership with them where they are directly engaged in solving the problems of underemployment and lack of economic opportunity.
3. Ameinu: What are your central critiques of the governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
Erel Margalit: I think the Netanyahu government has failed the country in a number of key areas.
On economics, they have allowed dangerous social gaps to develop. They also do not have have a passion for an economic development agenda to serve all of Israel’s people. The mayors and other local leaders are calling for this type of policy to strengthen their areas and keep local kids in the communities. The Right does not have a powerful message of growth for all.
On security, Netanyahu has focused on building settlements but has done nothing to make real improvements in national security. There has been no progress in reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and this lack of progress limits our relations with potential partners in the Arab League — Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and North Africa. The way to partnerships in the region runs through coffee in Ramallah and taking seriously our need to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Most dangerously, we have seen a dramatic decline in our ties to the United States Administration, which is central in meeting our security needs.
4. Ameinu: What is the winning strategy for the Labor Party for future elections?
Erel Margalit: We in the Labor Party have the pioneering spirit in our DNA, and we understand that we need to discuss both security and economic development together. We will win if we provide a powerful message to the Israeli people that we can build peace and security and we can build the kind of economy that engages all our people in the country’s economic future.
With this type of vision we can break down barriers and bring new constituencies to our coalition. We can bring in economic reformers and groups that traditionally have chosen not to vote for Labor, but have a tremendous stake in the kind of economic development agenda we are offering. We need to make it clear that we will not leave any group out and that social security is an essential component of national security.
And finally, we need to be both more aggressive and more emotional. We need to fight back against the rhetoric of fear. At the same time we need greater emotional intensity and we need to address key emotional issues like Jerusalem, even when the resolution to the challenge will be complicated and require compromise. This can’t happen if we don’t understand how Jerusalem speaks to our people and move forward in a way that is sensitive to this emotional connection.