Change We Could Believe In

Israel is on a collision course toward an unappealing future, and what we need now is something new. In the meantime, I know exactly what kind of man I want to vote for on Tuesday.

Israel needs change.

Our path has gone wrong. Israel's relative success compared with economies or societies around the world isn't good enough. The social-justice protest of 2011 and the protests to come really have nothing to do with housing prices or cottage cheese. They were about something far more profound – a sense of alienation and disappointment with the state.

The successes of Israeli high-tech, the immigration boom and the globalization in the 1990s created a narrative of a dynamic, innovative and promising nation, for a while. This story still applies to part of Israel's society and economy, but to too small a part. "Startup Nation," the scientific achievements, the better parts of Israeli society are too small and are losing market share by the day.

The political map taking shape ahead of the election on Tuesday reflects a desire for change in all parts of society, but the process is in its infancy. It will take a long time. No new responsible leadership has arisen that would promise a serious new direction. Apparently the process will start at the other end – at grassroots groups that spring up and demand change; and finally it will reach politics.

Meanwhile, we have to vote on Tuesday. Here is the man and the party I would ideally like to vote for.

* I would like to vote for a politician who isn't afraid to describe Israel's economic, social and ethical reality as they are, and who says straight out that it isn't the fault of the left or right, of Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert or Arik Sharon; each had his successes and failures, each was awful, cynical, wicked and short-sighted in his own way. But the process is much deeper.

* I don't want to vote for politicians who scapegoat parts of society – Haredim, Arabs, settlers or left-wingers. I want politicians who believe they can wield influence and find a language and values shared by as much of Israeli society as possible. People without sweetheart contacts in the right places share a common plight. People shop and pay too much at grocery stores beyond the Green Line too, they use electricity in Bnei Brak too, and housing prices have been exploding in Wadi Ara as well as in Tel Aviv.

It is convenient to single out marginal groups as the root of all evil but the truth is that there are chasmic rifts and alienation within the center as well, reflecting an absence of values and vision.

* I want to vote for a politician who says up front that the government won't be oriented toward quick-fire successes and who plainly says the process of change will be long and difficult. I want a politician who has a plan to make Israel a fairer place for all.

* I don't want to vote for one of these newcomers selling snake oil about the reforms they're going to pursue for the sake of the middle class. Pretending that the salvation for the many can come from pursuing small groups is a manipulative way to attract votes. That isn't how it works. True change in Israeli society must encompass all, left and right, observant and secular, Arabs and Jews, the public sector and the private one too.

* I don't want to vote for a politician who talks about sharing the burden (or military service and taxes), or redistributing the burden (same idea), which is merely a way to say we'll slam the Haredim, settlers or rich to benefit everyone else.

* I want to vote for a politician who talks about rebuilding this nation's structure in order to increase output and competition, improve our quality of life, create more equal opportunity, improve service to the citizen and make society more equitable.

I do know that growth isn't the be-all and end-all. For our subjective situation to improve, we need to know who is growing and how it's done. Economic growth confined to more and more business deals based on borrowing won't help the 90% of the people crying from the climbing cost of living, air pollution, traffic congestion, increasingly inaccessible health care and increasingly poor education.

* I would like to vote for a politician who would redistribute resources to support growth that reaches all. I would like to vote for a politician who realizes that the pork barrel politics, the hidden unemployment and the illogic pervade all sectors of the economy, someone who doesn't try to cast the blame for the societal and economic ills on some population group or other that wouldn't vote for him anyway.

* I would like to vote for a politician who would openly admit that Israel's present economic structure, like that of many economies around the world, does not reflect democratic decisions, the free market or the guiding hand of government. It is mainly a balance between a whole lot of small, organized cliques that know how to pull strings in government, and the regulators whose decisions determine how the resources are doled out.

* I would like to vote for a politician who would admit that he doesn't call the shots, that he's controlled by oligarchs and pressure groups who divvy up the pie between them. Everyone's pie. This politician wouldn't promise to increase certain budgets without explaining how he means to weaken or neutralize the pressure groups when allocating resources. That has to be done because otherwise the increase in budgets is meaningless – they will find a way to get back the budgets they lost.

* I don’t want to vote for a politician who talks about the middle class. I want someone who talks about the poor, the old, the disabled and the sick. The middle class and rich should first and foremost take care of the weaker ones.

* I don’t want to vote for a politician who says he takes care of the weak and uses that as an excuse to block the structural reforms the economy needs so badly. Government-controlled prices are no substitute for structural reforms. Subsidized housing for the impoverished is no substitute for fixing the problem with housing prices in Israel. Talking about the weak is merely a way to avoid tackling the root problems and the media abets that pattern, focusing on the horror stories instead of on the average Israeli's eroding status.

* I don’t want to vote for a politician who eschews coalition with this or that party because it's left or right. I want a politician who says he wouldn't sit in government with politicians who've been convicted of theft or fraud.

* I want to vote for a politician who sees that tackling corruption is the most basic value, without which we can't build a new social contract.

* I want to vote for a politician who knows that controlling another people is a social cancer that cannot be cured, and that every decade that passes eats deeper into the culture and character of the Jews in Zion. But I don't want to vote for politicians who use the occupation as a slogan that exempts them, as it has done for decades, from doing anything about Israel's other economic and social ills. I want to vote for a politician who really wants to end our control over this other people, not just wave the banner of the occupation as a way to distinguish himself from the pack.

* I want to vote for a politician who declares war on violence, not only in the territories but first and foremost on the roads, the streets, the public service and the education system – in short, everywhere.

* I want to vote for a politician who doesn't grovel before the press, television and the tycoons that control him, who is repulsed by the ties between money and the media and the press. I want to vote for a politician who doesn't become dependent on the kowtowing, shallow, cynical press and addresses the public directly. The carrot politicians get today from the tycoons and the press today assure they'll betray their voters tomorrow.

* I want to vote for a politician who doesn't talk about privatization, nationalization or protecting certain groups of workers, but who talks about total reform of the labor market: from a system that protects certain groups of workers based on their clout, to a system that protects all workers. There is no reason why an engineer at the Israel Electric Corporation should earn more than an engineer at a small private-sector company. I want to vote for a politician who protects all workers by assuring a fair standard of living, good basic services, solid infrastructures, education, unemployment benefits, pension, health care, and reducing the cost of living to reasonable levels like in the countries we'd like to emulate.

* I want to vote for a politician who knows and means what he's talking about when speaking of social-democratic values. The three most social-democratic nations in the world – Sweden, Denmark and Finland – provide welfare services to all workers, not only to organized gangs, and they do it by having competitive, productive economies. Their labor markets protect all workers, not only special privileges for a small group.

* I want to vote for a politician who explains how the government and business sector came to embrace the exploitative method of employing subcontracted workers without social benefits. I want a politician who not only talks about inequality but indicates its sources, who doesn't settle for slogans about investment in education but is willing to dive deep into the structure of the public sector, the business sector and the real estate market to understand the huge gaps between the richest and poorest.

* I want to vote for a politician who doesn't prate about sharing burdens but demands that the Finance Ministry and other ministries openly disclose the billions poured into powerful business groups with contacts in the right places. I want to vote for a politician who outs the arms dealers living high on the Defense Ministry hog; the associations milking welfare and education budgets; and all those growing fat from selling bad, overpriced or unneeded services to the public sector.

* I want to vote for a politician who respects academia, science and intellect when they talk about values and ways to change Israel's economy and society, who doesn't just fixate on their privileges, pensions and the budgets for their institutions.

* I want to vote for a politician who respects the business sector but doesn't grovel before it; who understands the importance of creating an environment for business to prosper. I want to vote for a politician who distinguishes between businessmen who create value, take risks and build businesses for the long run and the insiders of the clique milking the nation through monopolies and sweetheart deals with the state. I want to vote for a politician who doesn't just prattle about the distribution of the pie but starts with the question of how to increase productivity, boost growth and encourage initiative and output. I want to vote for a politician for whom the business sector is more than just giant companies that manipulate regulation and budgets for their own greater good; for whom the business sector is hundreds of thousands of small businesses with a range of interests, hence their inability to organize a lobby.

* I want to vote for a politician who doesn't frighten the public about the security threats Israel faces, but sees the dramatic developments in the Arab world as opportunity. I want to vote for a politician who talks about the difference between security and defense budgets, who forces efficiency on the security forces based on the concept that a flabby army is a weak one and an efficient army is a strong one.

* I want to vote for a politician who is determined to drastically lower housing prices but understands that there's a powerful lobby that may give lip service to the idea but abhors it. I want to vote for a politician who understands that the high housing prices are a social and economic cancer afflicting tens of thousands more families each year. It will mean taking on the banks that lend hundreds of billions of shekels to the real estate sector, which could pose an opportunity for the state to reform the financial system as well.

* I want to vote for a politician who doesn't babble about haircuts and tycoons when that's the fad, but who realizes that the structure of the capital market needs to drastically change, through elimination of economic concentration and completely severing borrowers from lenders.

* I want to vote for a politician who isn't afraid to create a new pension system, publicly managed, with low management fees and free of conflicted interests. I want to vote for a politician who is determined to break down the economic concentration in the financial system, where 10 people control a trillion shekels. They are a threat to democracy and the allocation of resources. I want to vote for a politician who isn't afraid to tackle the powerful business groups, who can explain how they are taking the economy backward, exacerbating inequality and screwing the weakest workers.

* I want to vote for a politician who will change the public discourse from budgets to excellence and service. I want to vote for a politician who will reform the public sector to a distinguished, important place to work. I want to vote for a politician who will sweep the hundreds of thousands of public servants in his wake, making them proud of the service they provide to citizens.

* I want to vote for a politician who will make young and old alike proud of this nation, but based on relevant ethea, not tired old ideas and fears no longer relevant to most people today.

* I want to vote for a politician who won't tell us that he and his party are some sort of new politics while fielding candidates tied to the same old money-and-power cliques that run the economy, who are hardly going to promote change. I want to vote for a politician whom I believe really is embarking on a long road of changing perceptions, beliefs and structures, who can sweep the people behind him, building new coalitions that don't rely on the powerful interest groups.

Anybody who says all this can be achieved without blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice is not a real leader and is not a person I could vote for.

Olivier Fitoussi