Political reactions to the social protest

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reacted to the public protest in a manner that raises serious doubts about his political instincts.

300,000 protestors call for social justice (photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
300,000 protestors call for social justice
(photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
On August 16, the Knesset will convene a special session to debate the social protest, based on motions submitted by the opposition parliamentary groups.
A motion submitted by Kadima bears the pompous title “Netanyahu’s tax government is detached from the people, and underrates its public protest.” Kadima urgently needs a copywriter. If one observes what has occupied its MKs in recent months, one may also conclude that it needs to decide what it is and where it’s going, beyond the caustic attacks of its leader MK Tzipi Livni, on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
One group of Kadima MKs, with Dalia Itzik at the center, has been busy trying to thwart efforts to revamp the Rules of Ethics for MKs. This is rather bewildering, given the problematic ethical record of some of Kadima’s leaders in recent years.
Since June, MK Meir Sheetrit has headed a committee that is advocating raising MKs’ salaries. The salaries currently stand at around NIS 34,000 per month, plus a car and social benefits, as well as around NIS 80,000 per annum for “contact with the voter.” MK Avi Dichter is busy pushing a proposal for Basic Law: The National State of the Jewish People, oblivious to some very serious work done on the subject by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee during the 16th Knesset, as part of its efforts to draft an allembracing and balanced constitution by consensus. Dichter claims to have put a lot of thought into the issue, but apparently did not give any thought to the reaction of the Arab minority in the absence of provisions securing its status and rights, or to how secular citizens – most of whom have more urgent concerns on their minds – would react to his proposal that “Hebrew Law should act as a source of inspiration to the legislator” and that “the Jewish heritage” should influence court rulings.
WHILE THE main opposition party is lost in its own La La Land, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reacted to the public protest in a manner that raises serious doubts about his political instincts. Apparently he does not distinguish between strikes and protests backed by concrete demands (such as the doctors’ strike), which can only be ended by negotiations, and a general outburst of dissatisfaction and despair on a wide range of issues, which must be addressed by the government. The causes for the outburst cannot be resolved by negotiations between the demonstrators, or by yet another superfluous committee established by the prime minister to buy time.
What is required is that Netanyahu take a good look at the situation and, after consulting his party (which, believe it or not, includes many members and activists who are not neoliberals), his coalition partners and his advisers, decide which issues need to be addressed immediately, within the limits of financial/political constraints. The rest should be left to the next general elections.
Unlike Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who admits that the current demonstrations are not about sushi or nargilas, but about housing, childcare and healthcare, is inclined to take a much more laid-back approach, and appears to understand that what is needed is a government decision – not more talk.
However, since none of the relevant ministries are in the hands of Israel Beiteinu, and since immigrants from the former Soviet Union (who are its largest constituency) are barely visible among the protesters – a phenomenon worth examining – Lieberman can afford to take a philosophical view and concentrate, for better or worse, on what is about to happen in September at the UN and in the region.
THE POLITICAL party that has the most to gain from the current situation, and is best placed from an ideological point of view to offer a social-democratic program that corresponds to the gut feelings of most of the demonstrators, is Labor. The fact is that, especially among the second line of protest leaders, there are many young Labor Party activists dividing their time between assisting the candidates in the party’s leadership contest, which will be decided on September 12, and active participation in the demonstrations around the country. Once Labor has elected its leader, it will have to start working on a strategy to mobilize public support for a comprehensive socioeconomic policy that will address all the issues, without losing sight of the fact that in the final reckoning, elections in Israel are fought and won over the peace process and the future of “the territories.”
The writer is a former Knesset employee.