Here we are again on the election merry-go-round. This year we have a farcical situation with a constant stream of “new/old” parties vying for entry into the Knesset, with the increasing number of prime ministerial candidates heightening electorate confusion as to who stands for what.
We have reached the point that stridently anti-Right Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy perceives Meretz as the only true Left party – yet because it is unlikely to be able to form a government, he is advocating that as “all other parties are right-wing,” the electorate should vote for Benjamin Netanyahu. This is in spite of his consistently penning virulently anti-Netanyahu articles.
Netanyahu must be laughing all the way to Election Day as parties divide to create new parties. He sees right-wing religious Naftali Bennett ditch Bayit Yehudi – the party he led – in order to create a new right-wing party meant to attract secular as well as religious voters. Bennett took with him (from Bayit Yehudi) Ayelet Shaked, representing the secular side.
Each day seems to bring news of yet another party joining the fray. Three former IDF leaders have initiated new parties. The Magen Israel Party led by Gen. Gal Hirsh (ret.) is set to join former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (Resilience Party), whose views he keeps to himself and thereby retains popularity and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party.
Key to Netanyahu’s appeal is that voters see him as “Mr. Security.” Historically, security has been a key concern of the electorate. Poverty and the challenge of making ends meet in a country where the cost of living is among the highest in the world, does not seem to be of overriding interest to the heads of the manifold parties registering for the election.
There is a strong possibility that this year will see an increase in the cost of living thanks to the strengthening of the dollar and euro against the shekel, yet most of what we are hearing from the potential prime ministers is mud-slinging.
Who is talking about the economy? Who is worried that some one million children live below the poverty line? The food security NGO Latet’s latest report notes that 6% of aid-dependent children beg for donations, another 5% forage for food from the ground or garbage bins and some 5.4% steal food. It is particularly worrying that, at this time, Osem, Israel’s largest food maker, announced that a third of its products will cost more this year.
Some 1.3 million Israeli adults are defined as poor. 71% of those who receive aid are in debt; 49% are in foreclosure proceedings. Half lack access to heating, yet this is the moment when the Electricity Authority decides to raise the cost of electricity by, on average, 6.5%. Together with the expected increase in water rates and municipal charges, 2019 will see an increase in the already unacceptably high cost of living.
Who worries that an increasing number of Israelis prefer living in Berlin to Tel Aviv?
Young Israelis are moving to Berlin primarily for economic reasons. The German city’s low cost of living is lauded time and again. Rentals in Berlin are 23% less than in Tel Aviv. Groceries are some 24% more costly in Tel Aviv than Berlin and Tel Aviv restaurants are 47% more expensive than restaurants in Berlin. Germany’s chocolate-flavored pudding is two-thirds cheaper than Israel’s Milky brand.
This calls to mind the 2011 “summer of discontent,” when young Israelis launched a summer-long demonstration on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, spending nights in tents protesting the intolerable high cost of living. The catalyst that sparked the protest was the cartons of Israeli cottage cheese, which could be found on the shelves of European supermarkets for half the price charged in Israel.
The phenomenon of Israeli foods being sold abroad for less than we in Israel have to pay was emphasized by friends of ours who recently visited South Africa, where they saw Israeli produce sold for less than they pay for the same product in Israel.
Leaving Israel for other countries is not a new phenomenon. According to the 2000 US census, some 106,839 Israelis make America their home. Unofficial estimates suggest the number to be around 500,000.
Israelis immigrating to other countries are no longer branded with the derogatory word yordim, but there is something not quite acceptable in Israelis choosing to live in Berlin. It does not weigh easily on my generation, for whom the Holocaust is not history but a burning memory – the barbaric murder of Jews simply because they were Jews.
That it was initiated and carried out by the cultured Germans, the birthplace of the likes of Beethoven, Bach and Mendelsohn makes it all the more horrifically inexplicable.
To this day, my husband, a Holocaust survivor, finds it difficult to hear German spoken. Last year, while on a cruise, we were seated close to a table of Germans who, naturally, were speaking German; my husband had to move to another part of the dining room. While some 33,000 Israelis have taken out German citizenship, my husband, who is entitled to a German passport, has no intention of obtaining one.
It is understandable that today’s generation does not have the same emotive connections to the past as my generation, but it is disturbing that our leadership ignores that economics is a prime factor in why many Israelis choose to live in Berlin.
Soon we will have the opportunity to cast our votes for the 21st Knesset. We hope to learn what each party is offering; to date, it remains a mystery. No one has yet paid much attention to the financial challenges faced by too many families, young couples and individuals.
Security is the buzzword used by our politicians; this country will, rightly, continue to place emphasis on its military guardianship. However, we should also be giving attention to the security of the individual. Why is Israel’s cost of living among the highest in the world? Why should food be taxed here when it is not in many other countries?
These are the questions that contenders for the office of prime minister should be addressing.The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.
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