Analysis

A New Election for Israel, but Mostly the Same Old Economic Platforms

Asked by TheMarker, the Joint List of Arab parties was the only outfit to give detailed answers about its socioeconomic platform. Likud has no platform at all

Election billboards for Labor-Gesher and Kahol Lavan.
Tomer Appelbaum

Israelis will be going to the polls for the second time this year on Tuesday, but from the point of view of socioeconomic platforms there’s no reason to change your vote from the first time around.

The fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been leading a caretaker government means that politicians have no new policy achievements (or for that matter failures) to show the voters.

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>> Read more: The pundits got it wrong: In 2019, the economy did sway Israeli votes | Analysis

The only changes have been in personnel and party alignments: Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is now embedded inside Likud, as is Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut. The party of Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked is inside a broad right-wing alliance, Yamina.

Labor ousted its leader, installed Amir Peretz and aligned with the tiny Gesher party. Meretz allied with Ehud Barak’s Democratic Israel and Labor renegade Stav Shaffir to form Democratic Union.

But despite all the movement, the party platforms haven’t changed since the April election.

Thus, for example, while the campaign has been focused on Netanyahu’s possible corruption indictment and his incitement to distract attention from it, little notice has been given to fact that Shaffir’s move to Democratic Union brought the Green Movement with her.

The result is a party platform that mixes welfare economics with a strong emphasis on the environment and a 420-billion-shekel ($119 billion) price tag. No matter, in the Israel of 2019 the environment counts for nothing in the political arena.

TheMarker asked the parties to provide detailed platforms, but the only one that could was the Joint List of Arab parties. Instead, we had to make do with remarks by party leaders and their track record.

On that basis, there were a few surprises.

If voters were asked which party has said it will demand that all party leaders in the next Knesset provide a detailed personal financial statement, it’s unlikely they would answer Yisrael Beiteinu, the party led by Avigdor Lieberman.

After all, Lieberman is the man who declined to explain how 7 million shekels in fees were paid by anonymous people from abroad to a consulting firm controlled by his daughter Michal when she was in her 20s. Transparency, it seems, is just one of the ways Lieberman has undergone a change in his image, if not yet in his actions.

Indeed, campaign consultants say Lieberman is the only major politician who has undergone a change since the April election. He refuses to join a right-religious coalition, demands that legislation on drafting ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews into the army be passed without the changes the ultra-Orthodox parties seek, advocates civil marriage, and wants both the core curriculum to be taught in Haredi schools and public transportation to run on Shabbat.

All this has socioeconomic ramifications by potentially raising labor productivity and the labor force participation rate. Lieberman has a long history of unfulfilled promises, but his refusing to join Netanyahu’s religious-right coalition last May shows his commitment to the religion-and-state issues he’s now campaigning on.

Yisrael Beiteinu says it’s willing to sit in a government with Netanyahu even if he’s indicted, and supports the prime minister’s proposal to link the size of the defense budget to the size of the economy.

However, on socioeconomic matters the party tends toward the left. One of the leaders of the protests by Israel’s disabled community is No. 12 on the party’s Knesset slate. It’s calling for an increase in pensions, as well as higher allowances for the disabled.

Another party that has adjusted its platform between the two elections is Labor. When Avi Gabbay led the party, he focused on reforming the health care system and public transportation.

By comparison, Peretz, in his electoral alliance with Gesher leader Orli Levi-Abekasis, has stressed policies that would reduce income inequality and invest more in the country’s outskirts.

Unfortunately, their proposals are likely to encounter resistance from just the kind of voters they hope to attract; for instance, their call for lower electricity rates, which will harm the interests of the state-owned Israel Electric Corporation and its unionized labor force.

Peretz and Levi-Abekasis are calling for big increases in government spending without adequately identifying how it will be paid for. Perhaps the most important economic development since the April election is the sharp increase in Israel’s budget deficit, which has now reached 3.8% of GDP. The next government won’t be debating where to boost spending but where to cut it.

The only party that has seriously addressed the fiscal challenge Israel faces is the Joint List. It favors a sharp cut in the defense budget and is calling for a tax hike for big corporations.

On the other hand, it opposes raising the health tax in order to reduce the presence of private medicine. It opposes barring public sector workers in critical sectors from striking and requiring them to enter into binding arbitration in disputes.

Kahol Lavan’s answer to the budget deficit is based on doing away with costly spending on special interests that comes as the price of forming a coalition and by doing away with unnecessary ministries.

Formed from three parties led by Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, Kahol Lavan’s socioeconomic platform is vague. For instance, Lapid’s Yesh Atid favored a ban on public sector strikes in critical services, but Ya'alon opposed it.

However, it does favor imposing the core curriculum in Haredi schools, and public transportation on Shabbat. It opposes higher taxes to close the budget deficit and linking the size of the defense budget to the size of the economy. It has taken no stand on raising the health tax or on the bill to draft the Haredim.

This election, Likud is maintaining its tradition as the only party that doesn’t release an official platform. Absurdly, when Netanyahu coaxed Feiglin to give up his campaign and join Likud, Likud presented a written position on a handful of issues – allowing imports of medical marijuana, a tax exemption for new businesses generating less than 2 million shekels of sales in the first two years, and more transparency at government agencies.

However, any voters intrigued by these promises should know they have no legal standing.

As for other issues, based on remarks by party leaders, Likud needless to say supports Netanyahu’s proposal to tie defense spending to GDP and limits on the right to strike.

Yamina has taken no stand on the core curriculum in Haredi schools. It opposes public transportation on Shabbat and tying the defense budget to GDP. It opposes raising the health tax and favors limiting the right to strike in the public sector.