Inside Out: Slogans and substance

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Lapid’s various positions, he deserves credit for stating clearly what he stands for.

Yair Lapid 370 (photo credit: Ricardo Mallaco)
Yair Lapid 370
(photo credit: Ricardo Mallaco)
With elections drawing nearer, the parties and candidates have begun to campaign vigorously in hope of winning over wavering voters, while ensuring the loyalty of their own supporters.
To some degree, all candidates resort to catchy slogans and carefully crafted sound-bites as an effective means of conveying positive messages about themselves and, alternately, denigrating their rivals.
In the balance, opposition parties tend to have an easier time invoking pithy slogans than do governing parties seeking reelection. The opposition can always appeal to the public’s desire for “hope” and “change” – concepts that are deliberately left vague so as to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. The governing parties, alternately, which have their record to reckon with, tend to campaign on the “responsibility” and “leadership” that they supposedly showed while in office.
As voters, however, we need to try to look beyond all the sloganeering for the substance that the candidates and their parties truly offer us. We need to discern what the various parties’ real priorities are and where their slogans fall short of reality.
On economic issues, the Likud has cited the government’s success at preventing the global economic crisis from adversely affecting Israel, while warning that Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich’s “outdated socialism” was sure to lead Israel to the brink of economic disaster, citing “Greece and Spain” as the frightening catchphrase.
Yacimovich, alternately, has tried to tap into middle class disgruntlement, suggesting that the Netanyahu government has preferred to tax hard-working regular folks rather than tax his allies in big business.
Both sides are telling self-serving half-truths. The Netanyahu government called early elections because it did not want to have to pass a budget filled with unpopular austerity measures – measures that are necessary because the Israeli economy is not in as great shape as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz would like the public to believe. The global economic crisis is only one of the factors that has contributed to Israel’s budgetary problems; the other is domestic policy decisions that were made by the government in the past four years, decisions that reflected the government’s priorities.
A good example is the status quo with the haredim (ultra-Orthodox). Netanyahu was loath to change the status quo in a way that might antagonize the haredi politicians, his stalwart coalition partners. He failed to replace the Tal Law with legislation that would allow not only for a more equitable sharing of the burden of military service, but which would lead to the integration of haredim into the workforce, taking many of them off welfare and generating more tax revenues for the state.
The preservation of the status quo with the haredim, which was maintained for the sake of political expedience, has cost the Israeli economy not only lost tax revenues and increased welfare payments, it has also come at the expense of people who are truly needy. Earlier this month an internal report by the Welfare Ministry noted that roughly 80 percent of the ministry’s funds that were allocated to help finance organizations that assist the disabled and the needy went to haredi institutions.
Yacimovich should be faulted for sticking to her catchy slogans about big business and the middle class, instead of loudly criticizing the Netanyahu government for this destructive policy vis-à-vis the haredim.
She has deliberately skirted this issue so as not to antagonize the haredi parties, which she views as prospective coalition partners, provided she can win away enough votes from the Right and Center with her populist sloganeering.
Yacimovich and Netanyahu have also refrained from addressing in any detail their views on the future of the West Bank and its Palestinian population, preferring either to ignore the question altogether or to opt for vapid slogans. Neither of them has said clearly where they believe Israel should be in, let’s say, another 20 years and how they propose Israel ought to get there.
The political logic of the vagueness of their positions is readily apparent – it allows them to appeal to a larger segment of the undecided voters in the center without alienating their base.
An interesting exception to the norm set by Netanyahu and Yacimovich is Yair Lapid. While Lapid has been repeatedly mocked by pundits and established politicians as a pretty face with no substantive content to offer, the facts tell a different story.
Lapid has put himself on the line on most of the crucial issues, taking a clear and principled stance on the cardinal questions facing Israel. Lapid is no fool, and his messages are gauged in a clear attempt to appeal to as broad a swath of the Israeli center as possible, but he has not allowed that to prevent him from clearly stating positions of principle on foreign policy and security, healthcare, the haredi draft, education, welfare, civil marriage and other issues that cannot continue to be swept under the carpet in the name of political expedience.
Lapid has gathered around him an impressive and diverse group of people who have helped him draft a detailed, carefully-crafted and clear platform on all the major issues on the table. Rabbi Shai Piron of Tzohar has helped formulate Yesh Atid’s policy on synagogue-state relations and education; Ofer Shelah has contributed to the party’s position on the Palestinian question, some of which was outlined in detail by Lapid in his address in Ariel on Tuesday; Rabbi Dov Lipman, who is a haredi Jew, has been instrumental in drafting party policy on haredi integration into Israeli society.
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Lapid’s various positions, in an era in which sloganeering, blurred positions and crafting the perfect sound-bite are the line toed by the two front-running parties and their candidates, Lapid deserves credit for crossing that line and stating clearly what he stands for.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.