(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor's Isaac Herzog, the welfare and social services minister, said Tuesday that the emphasis on important social issues was what swayed him to come out in support of his party leader Ehud Barak's efforts to join a government led by Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post after the Likud-Labor coalition agreement was initialed on Tuesday morning, Herzog said the document's focus on such issues "gives great support to all work that I've been involved in over the past two years."
Among the main points of the agreement were the intention to extend unemployment benefits by a month, efforts to stop the nonprofit sector from crumbling under the strain of the recession, and an increase to old-age pensions over the next three years, Herzog's spokeswoman said.
She also said that Netanyahu had agreed to increase subsidies for child day care centers, which would allow more women to enter the workforce, and to the establishment of a round-table committee made up of representatives from the Histadrut Labor Federation, industry and government.
"It's a model that exists in many other countries and needs to be put into action in Israel, too," she said.
Herzog will most likely stay on as minister, in a move that would be popular with social workers and leaders of most social welfare NGOs.
"We will be delighted if he stays on in this office," Itzhak Perry, head of the Social Worker's Union, told the Post Tuesday. "Over the past two years, Herzog and his director-general, Nachum Itzkovich, have done some excellent work and brought real solutions to some of the country's most critical social problems."
"If they suddenly stop their work in the middle of these reforms it could cause serious damage," Perry said.
Perry commended Herzog for treating all sectors of society equally during his two years as minister.
"He was willing to deal with everyone and we just hope he can continue with this work," he said.
Last week, Netanyahu met with the heads of some 30 nonprofit organizations for an update on the country's most critical social welfare concerns. The leaders called on him to reappoint Herzog as minister, even though, at the time, it did not seem likely that Labor and Likud would be able to find enough common ground to form a coalition.
"Herzog has big shoes to fill," said Ran Melamed, deputy director of Yedid - The Association for Community Empowerment. "I think he brought about great changes to the sector in general, and especially gave a lot of hope to all the employees in that ministry."