Poor man ‘Shulman’ emerges as the next Gantz - analysis

In wake of coronavirus restrictions, movement of self-employed would garner five MKs, poll finds

Screnshot of the "I am Shulman" Facebook page (photo credit: screenshot)
Screnshot of the "I am Shulman" Facebook page
(photo credit: screenshot)
On October 11, 2018, a KAN television poll showed that Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff of which at the time very little was known of his political positions, would win 12 Knesset seats had elections been held then.
This was more than two and a half months before the Knesset dissolved itself and new elections were called for April 2019, the first in a series of three elections over an 11 month period.
Gantz ended up establishing a party, and captured 35 seats in the first election, and 33 in the next two, almost tripling what the first poll predicted. He eventually agreed to serve as alternate prime minister and defense minister in a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today, Shulman is emerging as the new Gantz. In a Channel 12 poll on Monday night, an “I am Shulman’’ party would garner five Knesset seats if elections were held now.
Israel has in the past seen more than one would be political savior ride in out of nowhere and capture a bundle of Knesset seats.
Rafi Eitan did it with the Pensioners Party in 2006, winning seven seats and a seat in the government; Yair Lapid did it with Yesh Atid in 2013, winning 19 seats and a seat around the cabinet table; and Moshe Kahlon did it in 2015 with his Kulanu Party, winning 10 seats and a place in the cabinet.
But what is so amazing about the Shulman Party is that not only is there no such party yet, there is also no one leading it named Shulman.
Shulman is not a person, but a movement set up on Facebook in October 2019 to fight on behalf of the self-employed and the small and medium business people. It was set up in October, before anyone had an inkling that something called “corona” would upend the world and the lives of so many self-employed and small entrepreneurs.
It was established as a platform where the self employed and the small business people could air their grievances about the regulations and bureaucracies that they said were suffocating them.
“I have no money in my pockets, the authorities take it all/ A year and a half I am walking around with the same clothes/ I work like a dog and have no time to see the kids,” goes a rap-like song that became an unofficial anthem of the movement.
And the chorus of this song is where the name of the movement comes from: “My friends call me Shulman [a play on the Hebrew word to pay, leshalem] I pay for everything/ Shulman in Israel is always screwed/ You paid, you’re screwed/ There is nothing to eat/ We are all Shulmans when you think about it.”
A month after it was established, the Facebook group had 140,000 members. That number has now grown to nearly 210,000, and received a huge tailwind from the economic problems created by the coronavirus. On Sunday 12 MKs from all across the political spectrum – each recognizing the potential political power of this movement – took part in the launch of the “Knesset forum for the Shulmans and the self-employed” in Rishon Lezion.
The next evening, the Channel 12 poll showed that if the movement, founded by a horse trainer named Abir Kara and a Jerusalem restaurateur named Itzik Banin, would run in the elections, it would garner five seats. And that is before the group made any mention of Knesset ambitions.
Those findings dovetailed with other findings from the poll: When asked what are the most pressing issues the new government needs to address, fully 69% of the country said the economic crisis. This far outpaced as the most pressing issues corona (15%), Iran (4%) and the extension of Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria (4%).
Kara, in an interview on Army Radio, downplayed – at this time – any political ambitions, saying he wants to continue working for change from the ground up, and that the group has never mentioned running for the Knesset.
“We succeeded in eight months in creating a very significant political force,” he said, adding that they could get legislation passed tomorrow with the support of 120 MKs.
He said that the movement is changing the nation’s agenda. “For the last 15 years the issue here has been ‘yes Bibi’ [Netanyahu], or ‘no Bibi.’ For the last 30 years we have been dealing with the Left and Right, divisions and Haredim and Arabs. Now the Arabs and the haredim and the Right and the Left need to deal with domestic policy, to rebuild what is broken here ...the coronavirus gives us a great opportunity to improve and change.”
Kara, like others before him who have denied political ambitions only to end up in the Knesset, said that right now “we are in the middle of an accident, and in the middle of an accident the first thing you do is deal with the injured, and then we can deal with other things [like a Knesset run].”
Whether or not the movement does morph into a political party (chances are good) and run in the next election, it is clear that the economic blow so many people absorbed as a result of the pandemic will play itself out somehow on the political chessboard.
The considerable economic frustration that exists will look for a political vehicle, and if the Channel 12 poll is an indication, “Shulman” may just be it.