(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It has been three weeks since the dispersal of the 19th Knesset. Despite hitting the campaign trail immediately and spending most of the day in parlor meetings, giving speeches and joining thousands of Yesh Atid activists in street rallies throughout Israel, I have had plenty of time to reflect over our successes in our year and eight months in office.
Two years ago I stood before voters throughout the election campaign and promised six things. At the time the High Court of Justice demanded that the Knesset pass an “Equality in Service” law regarding the ultra-Orthodox and military service, one of the issues which brought the 18th Knesset to an end. We, in Yesh Atid, told voters that we would pass a law and resolve this issue which has torn apart Israeli society for decades.
We passed that law in March 2014 with clear and fair annual goals and in the first year more ultra-Orthodox young men have enlisted than required by the law. Even more important we included elements in the law related to haredi employment. Thanks to this approach, there is a 300 percent increase in haredim seeking employment through government programs. I head the Knesset task force for haredi employment and our projects receive an average of 500 résumés per month from haredim who want to leave yeshiva and kollel to work and support their families with dignity.
Every one of these people is now shifting from living off of tax-based welfare support to contributing to the state’s tax revenue. In addition, I had the honor of working on the parliamentary side to aid the establishment of Israel’s first-ever haredi hesder yeshiva and first-ever haredi mechina pre-military academy.
Two years ago I stood before the voters and described the waste of taxpayer money and the basis for corruption which was inherent in the previous government which at a certain point reached 39 ministers and deputy ministers including ministers-without- portfolio. I promised that we in Yesh Atid would abolish the position of minister- without-portfolio and would demand smaller and more efficient and effective governments. Here again, we promised and we delivered.
In March 2014 we passed legislation banning the hiring of ministers-without-portfolio and requiring the next government to be no larger than 18 ministers and four deputy ministers.
Leading up to the 2013 election I, and my Yesh Atid colleagues, related statistics demonstrating how Israel has plummeted in the international rankings in education, and promised an overhaul in education. Education minister Rabbi Shai Piron from Yesh Atid has been hard at work doing just that. The reforms to get back to actual teaching instead of the focus on matriculation exams, Education Ministry programs during the summer vacation, the establishment of technology-based vocational high schools, implementing a core curriculum of general studies for haredi schools, and a national plan to reduce class sizes are all part of this overhaul.
Two of our election pledges related to bringing down the cost of living, in general, and of housing, in particular.
MK Yair Lapid accepted the task of finance minister because this was the position from which he could enact change in these areas. We came into office and found a NIS 40 billion deficit which put many of those plans on hold, and quickly passed a difficult 2014 state budget with cuts across the board which eliminated that deficit.
That budget enabled us to allocate NIS 1b. to help Holocaust survivors receive free medication and pay for their monthly bills and also enabled us to pay the NIS 7b. for this past summer’s war without raising taxes. It takes longer than a year to significantly reduce the cost of living, but we already see the results of our policies making a difference. Electricity prices will go down 10% this month. Food prices went down by 3.2% this past year while in the rest of the OECD countries they rose by at least 4%. The number of children living under the poverty line went down by 3% as a direct result of our agenda to move people from living off welfare and into the workforce.
We enacted a housing plan with numerous branches including: Increasing the number of homes built, with 115,000 units already under construction; targeted pricing when releasing land to contractors; construction of 150,000 low-cost rental units; and zero percent VAT for first-time homebuyers.
Housing prices rose 80% over the past seven years, and November 2014 was the first time in that period that there was a reduction in housing costs. Unfortunately, an election was called just as we were beginning to see the fruits of our labor in this realm and before we had a chance to pass the 2015 draft budget which included an increase of more than NIS 10b. for these domestic needs.
On a personal level, I promised to serve English speakers throughout Israel and am proud that my Knesset office became the address for English-speaking immigrants regardless of whether they supported Yesh Atid or not. My staff was hard at work on daily basis fielding emails and phone calls from English speakers who needed help in a wide array of areas, and we certainly look forward to continue doing the same in the next Knesset. Aside from helping English-speaking immigrants on a personal level, I was able to challenge the system and make changes in other areas to ease the transition into Israeli life, including making it easier to obtain a driver’s license and a more user-friendly process for nurses to get a license to work in Israel.
Soon after being sworn into office the Knesset turned to me to get involved with parliament- to-parliament diplomacy.
This included hosting delegations in the Knesset and traveling to other countries to make the case for Israel. I am proud to have played a role in strengthening Israel’s position and relationship among members of parliament in South Africa, Hungary, Germany, Britain, France and Denmark. As an active member of the Knesset Christian Allied Caucus, I worked to strengthen and earn support for Israel from Christian communities throughout the world.
On the legislative front, I worked hard to sponsor legislation relating to religion and state with a focus on solving the tragedy of agunot (“chained wives”) in Israel, improving public health, care for the environment, and preventing the suffering of animals. These bills are in various stages of the legislative process and I look forward to bringing them to final passage after we return to the Knesset following the election.
As I travel around the country and explain to voters what Yesh Atid has accomplished in just a year and eight months and what I have been able to achieve as the only native English speaker in the Knesset, I am filled with excitement and enthusiasm regarding how much we will be able to do with a full four-year term.The writer is an MK for Yesh Atid.