Don't believe the media hype about this election being either uninteresting or a foregone conclusion. On Thursday night, Haaretz published a poll indicating that the center-left, led by Shelly Yacimovich and the Labor Party, is within striking distance of winning control of the government. Just a small number of votes – yours and those of your friends and family – could dramatically change Israel for the better. You have a real and very important choice. In my view as a candidate on the Labor list, my party is the only credible alternative to the current state of things. It could be so much better here.
As I talk to people around the country, there are three big issues they expect the Israeli government to address: prosperity, democracy and security.
First and foremost, what is with the economy? Why are a tiny few apparently doing so well, while the rest of us face an uncertain future? Why are the economic indicators showing one thing, while the rest of us are feeling the pinch? Why do immigrants who come here seeking the “start-up nation” arrive only to find a “tycoon nation”?
Why is it so hard for all of us to make ends meet?
Labor, under the leadership of Shelly Yacimovich, has a detailed, fiscally responsible and fair plan to bring about a socially responsible economic recovery that will spread the benefits of growth from the bottom up. Unlike the current government, whose only answer is austerity and who will certainly cut the next budget dramatically, Labor knows that during tough times, government investment must make up for the drop in private demand. This is affordable if the richest and most profitable large companies and extractors of Israel’s natural resources pay their fair share.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former chief economist, Professor Yaron Zelekha, says that Bibi’s “policies will cause an economic disaster.” Zelekha has endorsed our practical, fully budgeted economic plan that will pay for better hospitals and public transport infrastructure. Labor will also build thousands of new housing units in desirable areas; thereby reducing housing costs and helping with food bills by cutting the VAT. Labor has detailed plans to increase the minimum wage, enforce labor laws, regulate capital markets effectively, improve the public education system and reduce income inequality so that working families can ultimately pay less in taxes and stop struggling just to make a decent living.
A vote for the Labor Party is not, however, just a vote for fiscal responsibility. It is a vote for a democratic Jewish state, a vote against corruption, a vote for the rule of law, a vote for respecting democratic institutions and the very values that this country was founded on. This goes to the second big issue in this election: What is happening to the rule of law and our proud traditions of public service, transparency and democracy?
When Abraham Foxman, a great friend of Israel and the National Director of the American Anti-Defamation League, says that under the current government, “the very democratic character of the state is being eroded,” we know Israel is on the wrong track. Is Israel going to end up with tiny ruling elite using the rhetoric of national security to keep voters in a perpetual state of fear while they plunder the public wealth and make democracy and the rule of law an empty slogan?
Voters have a choice on Election Day: Endorse the current government or make the statement, “It can be so much better here!”
Finally, there is the perennial question of Israel's place in the world. Peace and security are of paramount concern for all of us. Labor led this country for the first decades of its existence and in my opinion, in those years we could hold our heads high amongst our friends and allies, while at the same time presenting a united front against those who would destroy us. Labor's plan is simple: Do what is in the national interest, above all else, above politics and personalities – while at the same time respecting the views of our close friends who may not always see eye to eye with us.
There are those who have been critical of Shelly Yacimovich for purportedly failing to address the issue of peace. But the reality is that Labor has declared that within three months of forming government we will commence direct negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions. We see an urgent need to implement the two-state solution for the well-being of Israel. We will not blindly entrust Israel’s security to anybody else; but at the same time it is not axiomatic that every Palestinian leader is “not a partner for peace.” We owe it to ourselves to at least try, despite all the challenges. As a result, I believe a Labor government will pass on to future generations a safer and more secure Jewish state, not an isolated, precarious and insecure country.
As I said above, this election is really only about two options – Netanyahu’s government or a Labor government. For those tempted to vote for faddish centrist parties, I say this: Labor is the only viable alternative governing party. Shelly Yacimovich has committed either to head the government or head the opposition, while the other “centrist” parties are jockeying even now for ministerial positions in a Netanyahu-led coalition. Voting for those parties will be a vote for Netanyahu.
And for those tempted to vote for the smaller leftist parties or not to vote at all, I say: Labor is the only alternative government. A vibrant, large Labor party led by Shelly Yacimovich offers the only viable answer to a long, destructive period of Likud rule. We are the party of fairness. We are the party of peace. We embody your values. Come home and help make Labor the force it needs to be to oust this government and get our country back on the path to prosperity, respect for the rule of law, peace and security.
MK Nachman Shai is a candidate for the Labor Party in the upcoming Knesset elections.