THINK ABOUT IT: The parties’ platforms – Part I: Socioeconomics

The other day an acquaintance from abroad phoned to ask where he could find the platforms in English of the lists participating in the approaching elections.

Elections in Israel (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Elections in Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
The other day an acquaintance from abroad phoned to ask where he could find the platforms in English of the lists participating in the approaching elections.
I answered that first of all not all the parties have platforms – for example, the most recent Likud platform was published in the run-up to the 2009 elections – and few have full-scale platforms.
Second, experience teaches us that in the complicated and unforeseeable reality that Israel lives in, it is impossible to stick to platforms (Begin’s total withdrawal from the Sinai is one of many examples), so the value of platforms as indicators of what the lists are likely to do if they actually form or join a government is highly questionable.
Third, the parties that do have partial or complete platforms are more likely, for electoral reasons, to translate them into Russian than into English. To the best of my knowledge, only Yesh Atid has declared that it plans to translate its platform.
Fourth, in order to understand what the various lists stand for it is better to observe what they and their leaders have done in the past, and what they declare today.
Based on the snippets of platforms that are available, experience in Israeli politics and observations from watching of TV programs about the elections (Channels 1, 2, 10 and 99) I shall try to outline what the various lists have to offer, beginning, in this article, with socioeconomic issues.
With regard to socioeconomics the dividing line is between neo-liberalism on the one hand and social-democratic principles on the other. Here one can state that grosso modo the Likud (especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself), Bayit Yehudi (especially party leader Naftali Bennett), and Yesh Atid (especially party leader Yair Lapid) are basically neo-liberals, though all three are willing to make exceptions when it suits them for ideological or pragmatic reasons.
The rest of the lists are all advocates of greater direct state involvement in the economy, whether to serve their own sectors (especially the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs), or specific socioeconomic deciles (such as the middle classes or the poor). They are also all opposed to the process of the privatization of health, education and welfare services – in other words, the gradual dismantlement of the welfare state.
Nevertheless, there are nuances in this opposition. The ultra-Orthodox, for example, want education to remain totally in their own hands, but with maximal public financing.
If governments were formed in Israel on this basis, there is no doubt that the Zionist Union (ZU) would have a comfortable majority to form a government. But that is not the way things work in Israel.
It should be noted that the ZU’s candidate for finance minister is Manuel Trajtenberg, who penned the report of the committee bearing his name, which was appointed by Netanyahu to make proposals for dealing with the demands of social protesters of the summer of 2011. One of the prominent members of Moshe Kahlon’s Koolanu party is Eli Alaluf, who in 2013 was appointed by Yesh Atid welfare and social services minister Meir Cohen to prepare a report on how to combat poverty in Israel. The fact that these two figures now find themselves on the lists of the ZU and Koolanu respectively, and not of the Likud and Yesh Atid, is indicative of the divide I mentioned above, and neither can be accused of being anything but social liberals.
On the issue of the maximal tolerable budgetary debt, and the raising of taxes – both direct and indirect – only Meretz seems to favor radical steps, while the other parties are inclined to support a conservative stance. How the various parties plan to deal with a serious deterioration in Israel’s economic situation and status – something that cannot to be ruled out – is anyone’s guess.
The Likud’s smugness with regard to Israel’s economic prospects is especially worrisome.
The most visible differences among all the lists are with regard to allocation of funds from that part of the budget that is flexible (excluding debt service, security, salaries and previous commitments). The priorities are based on ideological or “bon ton” considerations.
Thus, the Likud and Bayit Yehudi favor investment in settlement activities, while Meretz and ZU object to most of this investment. Yesh Atid is willing to allocate funds to getting the ultra-Orthodox more involved in the labor market and military service, and to the war against corruption.
All the lists that are not neo-liberal propose increased allocations for health, education and welfare.
As to the war against poverty, since much of the poverty is within the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox communities, the views on how to deal with these two problems are based more on ideology than on economics.
The right-wingers are only grudgingly willing to invest in the Arab sector, and are generally unwilling to offer the Arabs equal economic opportunities. The further Left one goes so there is greater awareness that much (though not all) of the problem has to do with discrimination, and that it is this problem that must be addressed in order to reduce poverty in the Arab sector (20 percent of the population).
With regard to the ultra-Orthodox, here the differences are between those who see the solution in increasing welfare payments and those who see the solution in increasing the participation of the ultra-Orthodox in the workforce. The ultra-Orthodox themselves belong to the first group, and Yesh Atid stands at the other extreme, with everyone else in between, where one of the main considerations is what price each of the camps is willing to pay to have the ultra-Orthodox in their coalition. At the moment both the Likud and the ZU need the haredim.
Incidentally, there is no one who formally objects to trying to combat the “black capital” market, which involves tens of billions of shekels annually, though none of the lists seems to have a clue how this should be done.
Finally, one cannot deal with socioeconomic issues without talking about the cost of housing.
All the lists that have made statements on the issues propose to deal with the problem by increasing supply, but there are differences in the details. Kahlon proposes to place the Israel Lands Authority, and the whole planning mechanism, under the Finance Ministry, which he wants to head, and says he will immediately start constructing 250,000 apartments. The ZU proposes the allocation of free public land for the construction of apartments with different specifications for different populations, placing the whole planning process under a single senior minister, and a project for fair rental to be managed by the government.
Lapid says that he will build the 100,000 new apartments that were approved by the Housing Cabinet, which he chaired as finance minister, and has apparently not given up his plan for 0% VAT on first apartments, which according to him should reduce the price of housing by 20%. He also speaks of using land evacuated by the IDF in the center of the country for part of the construction effort. The Likud proposes grants earmarked for housing in the periphery, incentives for contractors, and the construction of 100,000 apartments in the evacuated IDF bases.
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) claims that everything is “hunky-dory,” that there is plenty of construction going on, but seems to concentrate most of his construction efforts in the settlements in Judea and Samaria, and in special subsidized housing projects for national-religious populations within the Green Line.
Correction: Two weeks ago I wrote about the candidates for the 20th Knesset who had doctorates, and accidentally left out Jamal Zahalka (pharmacy), Dov Khenin (political science) and Basel Ghattas (environmental engineering) from the Arab list, Michael Oren (history) from Koolanu, and Ruth Kalderon (literature) of Yesh Atid. I apologize for my omissions.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.