In a far-reaching conversation, Koolanu candidate and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria met with The Jerusalem Post staff on Wednesday to discuss how her party will help the middle class overcome the high cost of living.
“I think the biggest challenge we’re facing today are social and economic issues,” she said. “We see it in all the research; we see it in all the polls; we know it’s a major issue; and Koolanu is the only party that is very clear about its commitment to handling these issues.”
According to the deputy mayor, Koolanu’s leader, former Likud welfare and social services minister, Moshe Kahlon, has worked diligently over the past several years to lower the cost of housing and groceries, and to break entrenched banking monopolies.
However, for Azaria, who holds the Jerusalem Municipality’s Education and Women’s Rights portfolios, skyrocketing childcare costs is a an issue of paramount importance.
“Today it costs NIS 2,500 a month to send a child between zero and three to daycare,” she said. “The kindergartens are supervised by the government, and NIS 2,500 is a lot of money when the medium income in Israel is NIS 5,000.”
Moreover, she continued, a number of childcare programs that are not government supervised can cost up to NIS 3,500 per month. She added that up to 20 percent of the monthly fee is pocketed by the programs themselves to cover unrelated costs.
“I’ve checked, and these are prices [that] can be cut down,” she said. “It can go down NIS 200 to NIS 300 a month comfortably, but we could even do more.”
She continued, “What we need to do is change the legislation and say you can’t take the money for something else.
Anything that is paid for childcare has to stay in the childcare program.”
Another primary issue, she said, is dramatically increasing the presently limited number of annual paid vacation days for workers, which only increases incrementally after five years of employment with the same organization.
“The way it works is that the vacation days you receive by law are two weeks a year,” she said. “And in the past people had many more vacation days because the legislation was made in the 1950s when people started working in their early 20s and left the same organization in their 60s.”
However, the labor market has changed dramatically since then, she said.
“Now people switch jobs every three, four, five or six years, and therefore we don’t even enjoy the vacation days, and we need to change the legislation,” she added. “We need to have more vacation days at the very beginning, and to have additional vacations days during the first three or four years, and not wait until the fifth year.”
“That’s how we’ll be able to enjoy what our parents enjoyed,” Azaria continued.
“I’m not asking for anything more than that.”
Asked why citizens will be better served by Koolanu, she cited the party’s “commitment to solutions.”
“Koolanu is going to work every day for the benefit of the people,” she said. “The fact that 80 percent of the households in Israel don’t have enough income to handle their monthly expenses is just an unbelievable number, and I think that has to be handled.”
To reverse this trend, Azaria said monopolies must be broken and small business owners must be empowered.
“It can’t be that we live in a society where you can’t open a small business,” she said. “If you go to a course where they teach you how to open a small business, what they tell you more than anything is ‘Just don’t open it.’ That means that we’re sick, that our economy is sick. And that is something that has to change.”
She said that Israel is among the least affordable countries in the world to purchase a home.
“Housing is one of the major issues,” she said. “Everywhere around the world, it takes 60 [annual] salaries to buy an apartment, and in Israel it is 150 salaries. That’s crazy! When I bought my apartment it was doable. Today it’s just not doable, it’s mission impossible.”
Azaria singled out former finance minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing Israel’s struggling middle class by not lowering historically prohibitive costs.
“We commit to handling the issues, to the housing issues, and the other heads of the parties didn’t do it,” she said.
“They had the opportunity and they didn’t do it.”
Adding that in Israel land is owned by the government, she said it must reform its bureaucratic system, which encourages delays in construction that can financially cripple prospective homeowners.
“It takes 13 years from the minute you plan building a house to the time the house is actually built, and that time costs a lot money because you need to pay everyone along the way,” she said.
Moreover, Azaria said the system makes it financially advantageous for developers to delay building, resulting in more than 250,000 apartments that have yet to be built.
“When there is a tender and they come in to buy a plot of land, it’s more worthwhile for [developers] not to build because they know that the [property’s] value will increase every year,” she explained. “So, that is why even though there are many buildings that are supposed to be built, they just don’t do it.”
To reverse this dynamic, Azaria said Koolanu will introduce legislation that mandates and rewards expeditious home construction.
“What we will do is say that you go into this program where you can buy the plot of land, but if you don’t build within a certain amount of time you will not be able to buy another plot, and therefore we are going to move everything along,” she said. “It won’t be based on which developer pays the most money, it will be based on who builds the fastest.”
Asked why undecided voters should vote for her party, Azaria said Koolanu is the only viable option to engender change for Israel’s struggling middle class.
“We have very set and organized plans, and we’re the only party that says if we can’t make the difference we won’t come back to ask for your vote,” she said. “We’re coming to work.
We know that we can do the job. We need enough seats to be able to do it, but we know we can do the job.”
Azaria concluded: “We want you to test us during the next term, and there is no Israeli politician that takes responsibility and says something like that.”