Why Shelly Yacimovich Needs Israel's Social-justice Hell

The election results made it clear: These elections were about socioeconomic issues, but not along the line the Labor Party wanted to tread.

Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich, who decided not to join the government because of the “abyss” between her policies and those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced in recent weeks that once the government was formed, there would be “social-justice hell” here.

Yacimovich based her statements, among other things, on the Finance Ministry’s decision to cut about NIS 15 billion from the state budget in order to stick to spending goals, but that was not her only reason. When she combs through the platforms and resumes of two of Netanyahu’s potential partners, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, she spots more than a hint of the possible struggles that we will soon be seeing in the economic sphere against monopolies and cartels, muscular and violent workers’ committees and powerful pressure groups. All of these that could pay the price of the promise to work for a lower cost of living, lower housing prices and make the civil service more efficient.

The specter of social-justice hell was probably intended to push Labor to join the government and try to balance these initiatives by bringing in elements of a social-justice paradise. After all, Yacimovich has already proven that she knows how to be very effective on the opposition benches. But how about taking responsibility and heading some important government social-affairs ministry, such as the Health Ministry or the Housing Ministry?

Yacimovich’s expectations of Netanyahu on this matter are very low. She doesn’t believe he will let her carry out one iota of her ideology. Her decision to sit in the opposition is based on long-term vision (as much as a leader of the Labor Party can plan for the long term), which in turn is based on the following principle: Among the workers who are members of large committees, government companies and powerful players, a precious few voted Labor. But when these players are harmed, they quickly forget who they voted for and become enemies of the regime.

If Netanyahu and his partners show real action and put serious work into these areas, that will sow discord, work conflict and strikes – and Yacimovich is counting on that. She will use it to build herself up. We will hear her waging battles and lending support to every sector that could take a hit from the structural reforms. When Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett talk about lowering the cost of living, she will talk about a heartless government that is putting more people out of work.

Standing beside Yacimovich could be two other players, neither of whom have a warm relationship with her. They are Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On. There is a possibility that Eini might not complete his term as Histadrut chairman, but structural reforms and changes – and certainly cutbacks in social services – could spur him to action once again.

Eini and Yacimovich could be a strong voice against an economic policy meant to serve the Israeli public yet capable of claiming victims among the economy's most powerful players. The path to real, sustainable change claims casualties, as we saw in the cellular telephone market.

The election results made it clear: These elections were about socioeconomic issues, but not along the line Yacimovich tried to tread. Lapid's voters are not wild about the idea of socialism and the huge government that Labor is peddling. They prefer comfort, hedonism – a bourgeois lifestyle that Lapid brings to mind.

The situation is actually no different than it was two summers ago, when the public protests began: Everybody wants things to be better, but no one is willing to dig into his own pocket and give a single a shekel in order to make it happen.

The powerful groups in Israel vote as they wish, but when it comes to necessary structural changes, matters stop being political and start getting personal. Yacimovich and Eini are lying in wait, hanging back until the time is ripe for an ambush. A social-justice hell is their only chance to stay relevant.

Shelly Yacimovich
Emil Salman