Despite the outcome of Tuesday’s election, these past few months have clearly demonstrated that the public is at least as concerned with socioeconomic issues as it is with the Iranian threat and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
From the Zionist Union to Yesh Atid and Kulanu, from Meretz to Shas, the parties put social and economic issues at the forefront of their campaigns.
Each appealed to the underprivileged, to families that can’t make ends meet, to young couples who cannot afford to buy an apartment, and to parents worried about their children’s education and future.
Even Netanyahu could not ignore this overwhelming fact.
Despite his campaign’s focus on security issues, in his victory speech he spoke not of the Iranian threat or the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, but rather said the Likud would work to address welfare issues and “lower housing prices and the cost of living.”
Perhaps this was just rhetoric on his part, but it was also an acknowledgment nonetheless that this is a main concern for the Israeli public.
And justifiably so. The next government will inherit a plethora of socioeconomic problems, including high poverty rates, high cost of living, a housing crisis as well as protests on overcrowding in schools and the state of education, to name a few.
One of the major problems the new government will have to address is the issue of poverty in Israel – which has one of the highest rates in the Western world, standing at some 20.9 percent, nearly twice the OECD average of 11.3%.
The National Insurance Institute annual poverty report estimated that there were some 1.65 million people living in poverty in 2013, among them 756,900 children and 432,600 families.
The previous government placed the issue firmly on the agenda by establishing the Committee to Fight Poverty, headed by Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), which was responsible for making recommendations on the actions required by the state to combat poverty in all aspects of life.
In June, the committee released the long-awaited recommendations, totaling an estimated NIS 6 billion to NIS 8b.
The committee called to reduce the poverty rates by 40% within 10 years, saying the only way to accomplish this goal is to begin implementing all the recommendations within the next three to five years.
Prior to the dissolution of the 19th Knesset, several of the recommendations were set to be implemented, including grants for some 18,000 single- parent families and pension income supplements for some 190,000 elderly living under the poverty line. They have been put on hold.
This would have marked the first time the government allocated any funds to address the phenomenon of poverty on a national scale.
Another major issue facing the next government is addressing the growing gaps in Israeli society, primarily between the general population and the ultra-Orthodox and Arab segments.
The latest OECD report found that the GINI index of inequality indicated that, while Israel’s standing slightly improved this past year, the country continues to remain among those with the highest measure of inequality, after Chile, Mexico, Turkey and the US.
The Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations consistently lag behind the general Jewish population on everything from employment rates to wage gaps to education.
Numerous efforts have already been made, including by former economy minister and right-wing Bayit Yehudi party leader Naftali Bennett to employ more Arab women and ultra-Orthodox. Likewise, former education minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid) also aimed to reduce inequality across the board in the education system and implemented numerous reforms to achieve that end.
Despite these efforts, there is still a long way to go for the next government to find a way to bridge the increasing gaps in Israeli society. In addition, it will have to address the growing outcry from parents regarding conditions in the public school system, primarily regarding preschools for children aged three to four.
In the weeks leading up to the election, parents held strikes and numerous protests throughout the country in an effort to draw attention to the overcrowded and understaffed conditions in preschools.
Most Center and Left parties addressed this issue ahead of the elections, promising to add a third caregiver to every public preschool in the country.
Even Netanyahu, in the days prior to the election, met with a delegation of representatives calling for an improvement in preschool conditions and promised to address these issues should he be reelected, though this was not widely reported in the media.
These social issues are just the tip of the iceberg. More and more Israelis are feeling discontent with the state of socioeconomic affairs in the country and are making their voices heard.
Despite the outcome or political orientation of the newly formed government, these social issues are not going away anytime soon.