Analysis |

Social Justice Issues Taking Center Stage in Israel Election Campaign

Labor, Kulanu and Yesh Atid place socioeconomic policies at top of priorities.

Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya
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 MK Stav Shaffir during the Labor primary election, January 13, 2015.
MK Stav Shaffir during the Labor primary election, January 13, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya

The cost of living and other issues affecting the average Israeli’s pocketbook have increasingly taken center stage in the run-up to the Knesset election on March 17. In a reflection of this, the Labor Party’s Knesset slate, which was chosen by the party’s membership earlier this week, gives prominence to Knesset members who are identified with social-justice and economic issues as opposed to matters of security and defense. Women are also particularly prominent in the slate made public Wednesday.

In Israel’s proportional representation system, in which parties are awarded seats in parliament based on the proportion of the vote that they receive, the ranking of the candidates on the slate becomes all-important as seats are filled from the top of the list. Top spots on the Labor list went to MKs with a social-justice and economic agenda, including former journalist Shelly Yacimovich, and Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli, who were both prominent in the 2011 social justice protest movement.

Yacimovich finished first in the party vote, which will place her in the third spot on the slate, behind Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, the leader of Hatnuah, which is running on a joint ticket with Labor. Shaffir finished just behind Yacimovich, granting her the fourth slot. Also prominent on the slate will be Manuel Trajtenberg, who headed a public committee in the wake of the 2011 protests that developed recommendations to meet the concerns over the cost of living that boiled over at the time. He will fill a reserved spot on the joint ticket. Trajtenberg is expected to be appointed finance minister if Labor and Hatnuah are in the next governing coalition and Labor has its way on the appointment.

The eighth spot on the ticket has been reserved for Hatnuah’s Amir Peretz, who is also closely associated with social justice issues and a former head of the Histadrut labor federation.

The Likud party leveled criticism at the Labor-Hatnuah slate Wednesday, but there was also concern among party ranks that the socioeconomically-oriented slate provides Labor and Hatnuah a new direction and some new faces that Likud currently lacks.

For his part, Moshe Kahlon, the former Likud communications minister who is now leading his own party, Kulanu, told Haaretz Wednesday that he sees the Finance Ministry as the place where the greatest amount of reform and economic change can be accomplished. Kahlon said he would not see his appointment as finance minister as a trap, as Yesh Atid party leader and former finance minister Yair Lapid called it. Lapid was finance minister in the outgoing government until coalition tensions resulted in his dismissal at the end of last year by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kahlon leveled criticism at Lapid and said that he did not believe his own Kulanu party could join forces with Lapid’s Yesh Atid. He and Lapid have different world views, he said. “The middle class that Lapid aimed at is a different middle class. The middle class that we are talking about is the real middle class that earns 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 shekels a month ($2,000 to $2,500 ), not 20 to 25 [thousand shekels].”

For his part, at a public appearance Wednesday Lapid expressed concern about public corruption and said in the coming weeks his party would propose a package of legislation designed to address the problem. “Transparency laws, stiffer penalties, a change of the rules of the game,” is how Lapid characterized it.

“Over a period of years, an unfair game was carried out in Israel. Groups with vested interests took control,” he said, mentioning among others representatives of the settlements, members of the ultra-Orthodox parties, members of Likud and Labor Party central committees, and politicos from Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi.

“All of them received priority in the distribution of the resources of Israeli society, which is a nice way of referring to those who took the public’s tax money and distributed it to whoever was closest to the trough,” said Lapid.

With reporting by Ilan Lior.

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