Elections in Israel.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Politicians from Yesh Atid, Labor, Likud and Meretz swapped slogans but offered few concrete policy details at a Tel Aviv University debate on social policy Sunday night, as a group of rowdy protesters jeered.
Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid leader and former finance minister, reproduced his defense of the 2015 budget proposal that helped fall the last government, doubling down on it as “the most social budget” the country has seen in decades.
“A moment after the elections we will put this budget into effect,” Lapid promised, extolling its health reforms, increased budgets for Holocaust survivors, 0-VAT policy for some new home buyers and allotments for single mothers. The budget deficit, he reminded the audience, had fallen to 2.8% from the 4.5% he claimed he met when entering the office (Finance Ministry figures show the figure to be 4.4% the month Lapid was sworn in).
Manuel Trajtenberg, Labor’s candidate for finance minister, said that as important as macroeconomic statistics were, they did not reflect the reality of the economy.
“The question isn’t just how much did the economy grow, how much bigger did the pie get, but who is enjoying the fruits of that growth,” he said, noting that a narrow swath of people were enjoying the economy.
Standing in for Koolanu leader Moshe Kahlon, poverty expert Eli Alalouf, the No.6 candidate on the list, decried the country’s poverty.
Poverty, he said, was the result of “government neglect over the course of years.”
“This system, nobody wants to take responsibility for. No ministry has a branch for it,” he added. When questioned on Kahlon’s voting record, Alalouf said Kahlon had made non-social votes because of party discipline when he was in the LIkud, but that they did not reflect his real thinking.
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon dismissed Kahlon’s popular cellular reform, saying it was a peripheral achievement given the inequality and poverty.
The reform, he joked, simply meant that “everyone can tell his friends about how crappy his life is for cheap.” He called for reforms in pensions, national insurance and direct employment laws.
Likud MK Miri Regev, facing an unfriendly audience, drew jeers when she claimed that Likud was, indeed, a social party. She touted her role in inserting affordable housing clauses in the last government’s fast-track housing scheme, but said public housing was necessary.
When asked how the party accounted for the near doubling of prices during its reign and the high poverty, she dismissed the student, telling him to vote for another party. Benjamin Netanyahu, she said, would remain prime minister regardless.
Throughout the event, a rowdy group of half a dozen protesters interrupted, yelled and ridiculed the speakers, cutting them off and preventing them from speaking.
When a protester accosted Lapid with the cuts to children allotments he pushed in the 2013-2014 budgets, he responded that he cut them because they had gone to the parents instead of the kids. He preferred increasing education and hot lunches to subsidizing large families directly.
Following an extended tirade from one of the protesters, Lapid turned to Trajtenberg and joked that such anger was what he had to look forward to in political life. “This is the biggest change from academic life that you will ever see,” Lapid said.