July 13th 1992 was an important day in the history of Israel – it was the day when the Rabin government was sworn in. In my own opinion this government was the last government that brought hope, equality and prosperity for Israelis.
The Oslo Accords with the PA, and the peace agreement with Jordan (which led to normalisation between both countries) are historic landmarks. Havoda Party campaigned in 1992 on a platform which included promoting peace in the Middle East, alongside social justice in Israel.
Under Rabin’s leadership, the government increased the wages in the public sector, increased significantly the education budget, introduced academnic institutions in the periphery, built roads and interchanges , refurbishing neighborhoods, gave equal child benefits to the Arab-Israeli population and reduced the unemployment left by Likud from 11.5% to 6.5%. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s true.
Under that government, Israelis had hope and dignity. Finally after years of high inflation and job market with high unemployment figures, you could see an economic improvement which people actually were able to feel. On the political side, those who voted for Havoda and Meretz parties (44% of the public), got their wishes come true after years with no progress in the peace process under the late Yitzhak Shamir (who was mainly stalling the process).
After many years during which the Arab-Israelis were discriminated in terms of budgets, suddenly came a government which worked on closing the gaps and letting Arab-Israelis feel equal.
Fast forward to 2014 and Havoda Party isn’t a party of power. Israelis living through years and years of a cost of living crisis – salaries stagnating while food, transportation, housing is increasing disproportionately. It’s the role of Havoda Party to come with radical ideas which will help to get the country back to the right track.
Havoda Party can just look at its sister party in the UK, the Labour Party which was in the wilderness for 18 years until 1997 when Tony Blair won by a landslide. After years during which Labour was unelectable (with nuclear disarmement and anti-EU policies), came a charismatic leader who didn’t hesitate to change the status quo in his own party (Clause IV). It was this radical thinking which positioned Labour at the centre ground and helped it to achieve 3 successive victories over the Tories.
Isaac Herzog is no Tony Blair, however in the current political climate, he is in the best position to turn Havoda into a party of power again. While he was right to defend the government during Operation Protective Edge, now is the time for Herzog to show boldness and tell the public why he can be a credible PM without the need to scare the public.
It is Herzog’s duty to stir away from demagogy and tell the public what it wants to hear without scaring it and using security issues as excuses. It is well overdue that the government should bring more competition into the banking sector (maybe even by letting foreign banks in). It is time to change the priorities of the budget and allocate more to education, welfare and health. It is time to reform the scandalous military pension and cut the waste in the army.
It is time to introduce public housing and massive construction projects across the country. It is time to build underground train network in the centre of Israel. It is time to break the monopoly of few families who control the majority of the Israeli market. It is time to close ministries like the ‘Strategic Ministry’ which are not needed. It is time to increase the minimum hourly rate and fight poverty. It is time to stop ignoring holocaust survivors and disabled and give them the support they need from the country. It is time to get back to the negotiating table with Abbas and to pursue the two-state solution.
All of these policy ideas require Herzog to be radical and not to be afraid to shake the status quo, whether inside his party and whether of the country. It won’t be easy as those with vested interests will try and do everything in their powers to prevent him. But Herzog will be able to start implementing these policies , should he captures the public’s mood and convince it that he is best placed to lead the country forward.
Herzog needs to act quickly because the potential establishment of a new populist centrist party might take away from Havoda a decent number of voters. Put it simply, Herzog needs to push for new elections and start telling the public what his elections manifesto will include.
I want to see Herzog standing on the podium in Beit Berl after the next elections, as the leader of the biggest political party in Israel saying these words: ‘A new dawn has broken.. We have always said that if we had the courage to change so we can do it, and we did it…We represent the whole of this nation and we will govern for the whole of this nation’ (Tony Blair, 1997 victory speech). It’s time for Havoda-led government, a government for the many, not the few.