Strong election showings by Labor, the Gil Pensioners' and Shas parties may at first glance seem to signal a shift in voting patterns toward a socioeconomic agenda, but experts believe the change may not be as abrupt or clear as it appears.
"There's a long, long socialist tradition here, and from time to time it reemerges," said Daniel Doron, director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress. "I don't think this is a serious argument for social issues."
Danny Gutwein, a professor at the University of Haifa, concurred. "Israel, contrary to popular belief, has voted on a social basis for years," he said, noting that the only difference now was in the transparency of that vote.
In the 1970s, he explained, voter decisions were based largely on social standing, but the privatization process over the past 35 years, and especially over the last five, had left both the middle and lower classes feeling more vulnerable as they lost ground in housing, education and social security, among other areas.
"This feeling of losing social ground has become their primary experience and they voted according to the new situation," Gutwein said.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, he noted, was the symbol of privatization.
"They expressed their dismay at privatization by voting against him or by voting for [Amir] Peretz, the Gil Pensioners' Party or Shas," Gutwein added.
Peretz, he noted, legitimized the issue of unfair social policy, telling the public it was reasonable and legitimate to worry about things like salary and working conditions. After that, he said, the problems could be politicized, as they hadn't been previously.
"He took this problem out of the closet," Gutwein said.
Doron, meanwhile, said that although social issues played a role in voter choices, they were not that crucial. Rather, he said, security remained the critical issue in voters' minds.
Yet, whether or not he saw the election as a serious call for social change, Doron was concerned about the shift, as he believed it put billions of shekels into government programs that he called "wasted" because the money went "into the bureaucracy and not to the poor."
"I'm afraid we'll be back to square one, that the economy will go into a nosedive. There's a great danger," he said.
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