One year ago today my colleagues and I woke up with a sense of great responsibility. The election results became official overnight and Yesh Atid was the second largest party in the Knesset and granted the opportunity to work towards fulfilling all our campaign promises. This has been a year of learning for all of us within Yesh Atid, alongside remarkable progress. As a party, we have moved forward on all of our campaign promises and as an individual MK, I have been blessed to see great developments on the issues which are close to my heart.
Let’s begin with Yesh Atid. We entered the Knesset with five major goals that we outlined during the election campaign. We promised “Equality in National Service” with the chareidi population joining in IDF or national service. The legislation, written by the committee headed by Yesh Atid minister Yaakov Peri, passed its first reading in the Knesset and it is now in the final stages of committee work before being brought to the floor for its second and third reading. Within weeks this bill will become the law. The sensitive law includes many national service options including serving in the police force and assisting in hospitals, areas of service which will directly impact the quality of life of all citizens in Israel.
We promised an “Overhaul in Education.” Many reforms have already been enacted by Yesh Atid Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron and there are still far more on the way. This revolution includes shifting from teaching information to teaching what to do with the information. There will be less focus on testing and a dramatic reduction in matriculation exams with more focus on research papers and classroom presentations. The reforms include official programming during the summer vacation and a focus on extra-curricular activities. The matriculation exams will be counted as college entrance exams thereby removing the need for students to spend time and money studying for the psychometric exams after they conclude their army service. The establishment of technology based vocational high schools for those students who cannot succeed in a classic classroom setting is well under way with the opening of six technology schools this school year. Finally, the linkage of government funding to general studies has already borne fruit with the Shas “El HaMaayan” network agreeing to include general studies with education ministry oversight in all of its schools. At the same time, secular students should be learning more about Judaism. Over 250,000 students in secular schools are already involved in new programs to strengthen their Jewish identity. Many more reforms are in the pipeline and will be announced in the coming months and years.
We promised “Electoral Reform.” Yesh Atid refused to join a bloated government and only agreed to join a government with 22 ministers with no ministers without portfolio. The legislation, written by Yesh Atid MK Ronen Hoffman, stating that future governments can only have 19 ministers and 4 deputy ministers has already passed its first reading and is currently in committee, being prepared for its final passage. The legislation also increases the election threshold from its current 2 percent. This creates a basis for a more effective and operational government.
We promised “Housing Reform” and have been working to enable young couples in Israel to purchase a home. Finance Minister Yair Lapid established the first ever “housing cabinet” in which the Finance Minister, the Housing Minister, the Transportation Minister and the Interior Minister, work together to plan. This change alone will remove many of the bureaucratic delays and high costs involved in purchasing a home. We eliminated the criterion of “experience in marriage” for housing subsidies and replaced it with army veterans and university graduates. The government is building 150,000 low cost rental units, a move which will lower the prices in the broader housing market and a historic deal has been reached in which the Dov Hoz airport in Tel Aviv will be cleared for the construction of 16,000 low cost housing units to take its place. Minister Lapid also announced a 160 million NIS project to construct 5,000 new housing units for university students throughout the country.
We promised to “Reduce the Cost of Living” including monthly utilities and food costs. Water prices have already been reduced by 5% and my own legislation to reduce the number of water corporations from over 50 to 15, a change which will drastically lower water prices, is working its way through the legislative process. We have worked to reduce egg prices by 3%, and with new reforms, dairy products will be lowered by 20%. We reduced import taxes on specific fruits and vegetables to keep their prices stable. The establishment of the Yogev Committee to reform the Electric Company will lead to a drastic reduction in monthly electric bills.
Five promises, five courses of action to fulfill those promises.
Aside from following through on these five campaign promises, Yesh Atid ministers and MK’s have been hard at work to make our country better in other ways. In the budget presented by Finance Minister Lapid 8.5 billion NIS was added to education, 785 million NIS to assist Holocaust survivors, 200 million NIS to prevent hunger, the addition of 550 policemen in cities throughout Israel and 570 million shekel to purchase advanced medical equipment. 200 million NIS was designated to assist the chareidi population receive job training, and, as the chairman of the Knesset Taskforce to Help Chareidim Enter the Workforce, I have overseen the development of numerous projects which will enable tens of thousands of young chareidi men to find employment and sustain their families with dignity.
The establishment of new ports will create thousands of new jobs and will ease the entire import and export process, a change which will contribute towards massive growth in the Israeli markets. In a truly historic move, every citizen has been given the chance to apply for the position of director of government companies as opposed to the old politics approach of personal and political appointments. Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, Chairwoman of the Committee for the Advancement of Women, has already made numerous changes to raise the status of women in Israel including laws which require female representation on the committees that choose the judges who sit on both the religious and secular courts.
Yesh Atid’s religious and secular MK’s have made a historic commitment to resolve issues of religion and state in Israel and have already demonstrated remarkable unity in navigating through these issues. The civil union law which, on the one hand preserves the traditional Jewish definition of marriage but also provides secular citizens with their civil rights, is a classic example of this cooperation. That law, along with many other policy changes including laws which I have sponsored to address the agunah crisis, will be brought to the Knesset within the next year.
Our party also introduced something else to the Israeli political lexicon – regional responsibility. Yesh Atid MK’s divided the country and under this “Your Representative in the Knesset” program each of us is responsible to focus on the needs of our “constituents.” Citizens from throughout Israel can go onto the party’s website where they can find their representative and we receive requests for assistance regarding local issues through this program on a regular basis.
My personal agenda as a Knesset member has seen progress in numerous areas including the above referenced projects to help chareidim enter the workforce, creating a framework for the acceptance of medical licenses for new immigrants, and working towards generating unity through presentations to tens of thousands of citizens from all backgrounds. I look forward to the passage of legislation which I sponsored including electing only one chief rabbi, forcing husbands to give their wives a get, improving our country in the areas of the environment, public health, and reducing the suffering of animals, and combating discrimination against Ethiopians. My introduction of Meatless Mondays into the Knesset will bring greater awareness to the environmental and health benefits in reducing meat consumption. The Knesset taskforce for renewable energy which I founded will help create long term planning in this realm with all the environmental, health, and cost of living benefits which a comprehensive plan will yield.
Serving as a member of Knesset is both a great challenge and a great honor. Serving in the Knesset as a member of Yesh Atid, a party which has accomplished so much in just one year, is a source of great pride. We will continue to work hard for all citizens of Israel with our spirit of “New Politics” as we try to help transform our state into a wondrous society enabling the Jewish people to fulfill its mission as a true “light unto the nations.”