No shock here: Social issues left out of election campaign

Union leader: "Suddenly there is a war," and the focus changes.

ethiopian poor 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
ethiopian poor 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Socioeconomic experts say they are not surprised at the failure of most political parties to address the country's growing social welfare and economic problems as they campaign for the February 10 general election. "Security is obviously a big concern, and people are still in shock after the war in Gaza," Dr. Amir Vatury, a leader of the Power to Workers Trade Union, which represents some 2,000 blue-collar workers, told The Jerusalem Post. "Even if there were previously a rise in attention to socioeconomic issues, suddenly there is a war, and that focus changes," he continued. "It's not that poverty has suddenly ceased to exist or that the socioeconomic gaps in Israeli society have been solved. It's just that whenever there is a war in Israel, all these issues are swept under the rug." In fact, very few of the 34 parties vying for the 18th Knesset have discussed the recession or the thousands who have lost their jobs over the past six months. "There are some smaller parties, such as Hadash, that are pushing the socioeconomic agenda," commented Dr. Efraim Davidi, a lecturer in socioeconomic history at Tel Aviv University. "However, these parties have very little chance of being part of a unity government." Among the three main parties, he pointed out, "there's almost no difference in their socioeconomic approach. "Of course, there has just been a war, and that obviously consumes a lot of the attention, but even if there hadn't been a war, the parties have no disagreement about socioeconomic issues," said Davidi. Vatury agreed: "In 2006 there was [Labor Party leader] Amir Peretz, who forced the social issues onto the agenda. There were disagreements between the parties then on the approach to this subject, but today the three large parties share a similar stance." Davidi noted, however, that Peretz has since disappeared from the political horizon, and that could be one reason other politicians have refrained from raising socioeconomic issues. "I think that one of the tragedies of Israeli politics and politicians is that they don't really reflect the interests of the people," he continued. "Take [Avigdor] Lieberman's [Israel Beiteinu] party. He represents many new immigrants and blue-collar workers, but even he doesn't talk about the social problems faced by his electorate." Vatury added that "although I'm disappointed that the election campaigns are not talking about these issues, I'm not really surprised and never had any real expectations that they would be addressed." However, failure even to allude to the country's social and economic problems during this election period - especially as Israel may be moving toward a major recession - does not bode well for the future, both experts agreed. "The politicians claim that this [recession] is an economic tsunami, and that the only option is to stand aside and let it move through," observed Davidi. "However, we disagree. It's not a tsunami, and these issues need to be addressed by someone."