People seem more uncertain about voting than usual. The Israeli public is more confused and hesitant and the dilemmas are stranger and odder than ever before. Sometimes it seems as though as much as a third of the public, mainly the young, is undecided and will be until Election Day on January 22.
For years, voting in Israel was governed by clear boundaries – left and right, secular and religious, occupation and territories. But the public discourse has changed dramatically in the last two years. Voters are less impelled to vote along tribal or historic lines. They want rationality in their vote. They want parties that will improve their own lots, socially or economically, and that will fix what has broken down in Israeli society and culture.
After choosing to vote rationally, many are dismayed to realize the solid information they have about the parties' histories, records and plans is woefully thin. The young are starting to suspect that there's no connection between the slogans the parties are shouting and their desires and abilities to drive through change.
My longtime readers know I don't expect the political system to make structural reforms to society or the economy after the election. Most of the interest groups in Israel are more powerful, better organized and more deeply entrenched in Israeli consciousness than the political parties and leaders. In any case, the politicians' concepts and their room to maneuver reflect the power of the interest groups.
Next week, we will try to provide a guide to voting based on socio-economic considerations, and maybe considerations of culture and values as well. But curb your enthusiasm. It won't solve the basic problem, and in fact right now it's hard to find even one party that stands out.
Until then, here is a short guide to eight slogans, clichés and spins being bruited about. Watch out for them.
1. The "middle class"
A few parties are running on the middle class ticket, declaring they're the ones looking out for its interests. It's a great slogan, which tries to tap into the spirit of the social-justice protest. But it's no more than a smokescreen, usually hiding a desire to attract voters without actually committing to anything or having a plan or intention to do anything.
What is the middle class, anyway? Some people are middle class today and will be jobless tomorrow. Some people are middle class now but know their children have no future in this country tomorrow – that the money, the power, the jobs and the opportunities are reserved for groups whose very existence the "middle class" parties don't want to acknowledge.
Israel has a gigantic middle class connected to the companies, organizations and institutions whose structure, hidden unemployment, service ethic and management stifle growth, initiative and innovation, at the expense of the weak and other members of the middle class. Everybody is jealously protecting their own little kingdoms and paying the price for other insiders' little kingdoms. Prating about the "middle class" is a way to avoid committing to targeting the hubs of power, money and control over the economy. It is a way to avoid taking on powerful groups that by commission or omission, are responsible for Israel's low productivity and the structures that depress equality of opportunity, growth and initiative.
2. "Sharing the burden"
Middle class politicians love the slogan "sharing the burden," which is a mealy-mouthed way of saying that the Haredi draft exemption is the root of Israel's economic ills. They're right, but the debate they have created isn't meant to find a way to get the ultra-Orthodox into the labor market and to gradually tear down the rule of an extremist rabbinical oligarchy. They mean to maintain the status quo that serves the rabbis and other powerful groups, which prefer to deflect fire from other issues to the ultra-Orthodox.
The "share the burden" politicians don't talk about the structure, culture, integrity and effectiveness of the public or private sector. They don't talk about the labor market that protects jobs rather than workers, economic concentration, corruption, ties between big money, big government and the media, monopolies, the defense budget or in fact the whole Big Money-Big Government gang. That would just irritate voters and powerful people. That's why they've narrowed their focus to the settlements and the ultra-Orthodox, two populations that wouldn't vote for them anyway.
3. "Invest in education"
Really? The education budget was increased by more than 40 percent from 2007 to 2013. Yet 90 percent of Israel's education professionals and experts know there's no way Israel will reach any kind of global pinnacles in education, science or knowledge without profound changes in the structure of the education system, its methods, its culture and the ecological system of its environment, the public sector.
Our world champions of "investing in education" never elaborate on the reforms of the public sector at large and education in particular that they would lead and that would change the system where their predecessors have failed for 20 years. Obviously, they also ignore the barriers to change, let alone how they could be overcome.
4. "Security threats"
This is a favorite among the ruling parties. Instead of painting a bright, optimistic future and talking about the opportunities for Israel in the world following the economic and social collapse of its enemies, they're busy whipping up anxiety and reducing the people to survivalist state. This spares the parties from having to descend into the daily reality of millions of Israelis – education, health-care, the cost of living, infrastructures, dirt, violence, corruption and mainly the growing sense of despair among the young.
5. "We lowered the price of mobile communications."
So they did. Chapeau! And they did it by as much as 70 to 90 percent. With that they proved how cavernous and endless are the distortions, corruption and falsity pervading the economy under all governments, left and right. Instead of burbling about cellular communications, explain how to make similar changes at the banks, the monopolies and all the other institutions that should provide better service.
6. "Something has to be done about the tycoons, but hating the rich is wrong"
What does doing something about the tycoons have to do with hating success stories?
A tycoon by definition isn’t a success story. He's a man with levers in government, in the financial system and in the press. Do Israelis really hate success stories? Of course they don’t. People who make it by virtue of skill, initiative and brains are superstars. Israelis admire them. This story about hating the rich is a figment of politicians and journalists who want to seem socially aware on the one hand and to sustain their comfy symbiosis with the caste of the monopolies, the financial system and choice contacts on the other.
7. "Stop privatization"
This slogan is popular among the parties not in government. They want to position the outgoing government as having sold national assets, ruined the economy and caused inequality. But in reality, of course, privatization in Israel isn't a matter of left or right. It’s not really an ideological issue at all, but the result of the feebleness of the public sector and its chiefs.
Our main objection to privatization in the last decade isn't about ideology either. It's about the fact that the privatizations and the way they were handled created negative incentives, usually did not improve service or efficiency and became an easy, bad way for the government to contend with powerful unions. The real issue isn't privatization or nationalization. It's the quality and efficiency of the body providing the service and supervision over it. In recent years the government has turned from a service provider into a supervisor of service provision. It has done as badly in the second role as it did in the first, sometimes for the very same reasons.
8. "The unions"
Both the left and right have been making manipulative use of "unions." The method is to link the unions to the monopolies, who roll their costs and inefficiencies onto the weak and diminish equal opportunity, with the concept of organized labor. Under a real social-democratic system, most organized workers are responsible people who view themselves as part of society as a whole. They do not therefore roll inefficiency onto other, weaker workers outside of their group. Under the Israeli system, only a quarter to a third of workers is protected and the rest pay the price. No politician would touch this issue with a barge pole.
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