Israel Elections: Who cares about Israeli voters? - opinion

Let’s take stock of where we – those who will be voting once again on November 1st – stand in relation to what we require as against that which we receive.

 ISRAELIS SET UP tents last month on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, to protest against the soaring housing prices in Israel and social inequalities.  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
ISRAELIS SET UP tents last month on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, to protest against the soaring housing prices in Israel and social inequalities.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Timing is everything. Sadly, what we are witnessing today is how easy it is to go to elections rather than find a way to continue to work together for the good of the country.

Who cares about the electorate? Let’s take stock of where we – those who will be voting once again on November 1st – stand in relation to what we require as against that which we receive.

First observation: yet another Rothschild Boulevard protest campaign, this time against the exorbitant cost of both renting and buying a home in Israel. Remember the 2011 protest, on the same spot, campaigning against the fact that Israeli cottage cheese is cheaper to buy abroad than it is in Israel? Cottage cheese was the tip of the iceberg representing the inexplicable high cost of food in Israel. 

Not that anything has become less expensive since 2011; on the contrary – today food prices in Israel are considerably higher than in most countries, with Israel being named the sixth most expensive country in the world when it comes to grocery purchases

Rothschild Protest No. 2 is against the prohibitive cost of finding somewhere to live; rental costs are becoming more exorbitant by the minute – never mind the almost improbable dream for many of buying an apartment.

View of new high-rise apartment buildings next to older small homes, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod (credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)View of new high-rise apartment buildings next to older small homes, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod (credit: GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90)

Cost of renting

When my Israeli-born grandson married in December 2019, he planned to rent for a while and then buy an apartment. He almost purchased an apartment in June of last year, but as he was about to sign the seller changed her mind. 

Since then prices have rocketed. A major factor has been a halt in building, in part due to COVID-19. However, the entire procedure of acquiring land on which to build has to be approved by the government. While this is a long process, it is severely exasperated by the frequent change of government. Israel’s population growth is among the highest among OECD countries but, sadly, ​building starts fall extremely short of what is required to meet the needs. 

While my grandson earns a respectable salary, his wife (with excellent degrees in criminology and psychology) works with those in dire need of psychological support, of whom there are many more since COVID came on the scene. Sadly she, like others in the varied caring professions, finds her challenging work is not reflected in the remuneration she receives. 

For young couples who might wish to begin a family, it is becoming increasingly financially challenging as the cost of daycare for two children under school age could potentially wipe out an entire salary, thereby invalidating a return to work. 

Other issues

WHAT ABOUT our understaffed medical system, where doctors have to work a 12-hour shift and where nurses are in short supply? If you are a hospitalized patient, without relatives who can come to feed and watch over you, you better start praying (unless you are in the fortunate financial position to hire a private nurse to look after you). 

Such was my experience when my late husband, in his final months of life, required hospitalization. I sat by his bed day and night in order to help him walk to the bathroom and to assist him at mealtimes, as well as monitor his medication.

As if the above is not enough, we can look at the school education system. Readers of my column may remember the article I wrote in July 2020, when the total number of children enrolled in our schools was around 2.5 million. The report of the OECD (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) through its PISA Student Assessment Tests (a study of ​15-year-olds’ educational abilities in some 80 countries) revealed that Israel’s education system was in decline – a situation that should be of grave concern to Israel, which relies heavily on its brain power. 

Then we learned that the status and salary of a full-time teacher were low compared to other professions. Negotiations were started with the Histadrut, on salary increases, but due to the impending election campaign, these talks were halted. While I cannot find when and if the teachers’ salaries were increased, what I can say with conviction is that having a fifth election within three and a half years does not bode well for the education of our children.

“Electoral reform is overdue. The political dysfunction is the result of a systematic failure that must be addressed. Israel now holds the dubious first place of frequency of elections – and on average has elections every 2.6 years since 1996. This is coupled with the unique situation in which a candidate for prime minister is on trial and therefore members of his own political camp won’t sit with him. This ongoing crisis will not come to an end until Israel’s leaders put their political differences aside and enact long-overdue electoral and constitutional reforms.” 

Yohanan Plesner

How can we expect change for the better when there is a constant change in government leading to a constant change of education ministers? There are those who would argue that we are doing well today, but what about tomorrow? We witnessed, in recent years, a consistent downgrading of our international university status. It may take time, but we will be unable to reverse the downward spiral without a deep and thorough investigation of the current education structure. 

BACK TO the beginning. We are into a new election campaign period, but which party will actually talk about these issues? While, justifiably, the reality of a nuclear Iran should remain top of our security agenda, surely our politicians should be addressing the day-to-day concerns of the electorate. 

Will we hear from the parties as to how we, the voters, will benefit from their policies? Will we learn when those who educate our children, nurse the sick and are in caring professions will receive a salary commensurate with the vital services they provide? Will there be a party proposing a scheme whereby it will be possible to find living accommodation in sync with what a young couple or an individual can afford?

Unfortunately, as long as the priority for each potential Knesset member is to have a “safe” place on the party list, ensuring his/her election – rather than feel a responsibility toward those they are meant to serve – the answer is in the negative

The reality is that our electoral system is in diametric opposition to the necessities of the population. The recent words of Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, ring loud and clear:

Electoral reform is overdue. The political dysfunction is the result of a systematic failure that must be addressed. Israel now holds the dubious first place of frequency of elections – and on average has elections every 2.6 years since 1996. This is coupled with the unique situation in which a candidate for prime minister is on trial and therefore members of his own political camp won’t sit with him. This ongoing crisis will not come to an end until Israel’s leaders put their political differences aside and enact long-overdue electoral and constitutional reforms.”  

The writer is chairperson of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA). In a former life, she chaired a number of major Zionist organizations in the United Kingdom. The views expressed are hers alone.