Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich pushed her political platform yesterday at a gathering of world Jewish leaders, saying that there is nothing more consistent with traditional Jewish values than promoting socialjustice.

Speaking in Jerusalem at a conference on the future of the Jewish people organized by The Jewish People Policy Institute, an Israeli-based think tank, she said: "Judaism is the ultimate source of social justice. Tikkun olam ["repairing the world"] and tzedakah ["charity"] are at the heart of our religion. But tzedek ["justice"] is more important than tzedakah. A country with tzedek doesn't need tzedakah."

Yacimovich, whose party is projected in the polls to win about 25 seats in the upcoming January election, said that the election is "about fundamental questions that concern Jewish identity."

The Labor Party leader addressed the group of roughly 120 Jewish decision-makers and academics in English. The focus of this year's two-day conference was financial management in the Jewish organizational world.

She said that in her view, one of the most positive developments in Israeli-Diaspora relations this past year was the decision to allow Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel to receive salaries from their respective municipalities. "I have a great deal of respect for Orthodoxy," she said, "but we must allow for free religious expression for other streams of Judaism as well. This decision was a victory for freedom of religion."

Yacimovich suggested that increasing signs of racism in Israel are connected to rising rates of poverty in the country. "Poverty fosters racism and intolerance," she said. "That's true everywhere, not only in Israel. The flowers of peace will not bud unless Israelis feel rooted in social justice and economic security."

She said the nation's biggest challenge was that "too many Israelis live in a world that has nothing to do with 'start-up nation.'" She noted that Israel's poverty rate was among the highest in the developed world. "We cannot tolerate this. Not in Israel," she said.

The solution, she said, lies in "finding the right balance between the free market system, on the one hand, and state responsibility for its citizens, on the other."