Cost of living, more than just cottage cheese

The Zionist Union has a better plan for all those billions of shekels that end up funding pork barrel projects

It has become clear that everyday Israelis know what Prime Minister Netanyahu, supping on his taxpayer-funded pistachio ice cream at his official residence, could not possibly know: the cost of living is too high. Netanyahu has been inactive on the biggest issue facing us, and his silence is deafening. While his citizens struggle to pay their mounting bills, Netanyahu has steadfastly refused to truly address the cost of living, preferring to divert attention to Iran, Iran, Iran.

And let’s not forget who put Netanyahu in the prime minister’s residence: his Finance Minister and enabler, Yair Lapid, who promised socioeconomic progress, but delivered yet another term of Netanyahu’s desolation.

Under Netanyahu – and Lapid – housing prices have risen 55% over five years. In the same period, rents have risen by 30%. Housing is the single biggest contributor to the exorbitant cost of living in Israel. But when the state comptroller put out his damning report against the Netanyahu government’s complete inaction on housing, Netanyahu posted a widely derided tweet that said, effectively, “Yes, but Iran.”

Israelis are tired of the excuses. It has been nearly four long years since Israelis across the country flocked to the streets in some of the largest social justice protests the country has ever seen. They managed to fundamentally change the discourse on socioeconomic issues in this country, but, under this government, little has changed in practical terms, because the government hasn’t taken the issue seriously.

This is about more than just the price of cottage cheese or Milky. This is about the future of Israel. This is about keeping Israelis in Israel and encouraging our friends and family to come join us here. And this is not going to happen if Israel remains unaffordable, or if sections of Israeli society remain excluded.

The exact opposite, in fact, has occurred. In recent years, many Israelis and new olim have left Israel, citing the cost of living as a major factor in their choice to leave. This exodus will continue if Israeli leadership does not take meaningful and immediate action to mitigate rising costs.

We must not become an exclusive Israel; an Israel for the wealthy; we must be an Israel where futures are forged and dreams can be realized.

If the Zionist Union forms the government, we will act on the cost of living on all fronts. We believe Israelis should not be spending any more than a third of their income on rent or mortgages. That is why we are committed to building up to 300,000 new residential units over the next five years by giving state-owned land to developers for free as a means to reduce housing costs. This is social justice. This is the innovative and progressive policy that Israel has been lacking for the past six years under Netanyahu.

We will make healthcare more affordable and more accessible for the Israelis who need it the most. We will invest in and strengthen the public health system with a view to creating a more equal and healthier community. The Zionist Union will invest more in the health system, so that household medical bills will be reduced by hundreds of shekels a month, and that Israelis – and not rich foreign medical tourists – will be able to enjoy our wonderful hospitals and medical facilities.

We are committed to helping needy senior citizens, reducing the burden on them and the children who often care for them. In government, we will allocate two billion shekels to a basic aid package that will make the everyday lives of seniors easier to bare, and we will eliminate poverty among 190,000 elders by increasing their social security payments.

The money is there: every year, tens of billions of shekels are secretly transferred by the Finance Committee to a variety of pork barrel projects, many of them to powerful lobby groups like settlers, at the expense of other Israelis in need, like those in the periphery. These billions could be spent fairly and equally between all the citizens of Israel no matter where they may live nor how powerful their political friends may be.

We believe that Zionism means protecting the weak and standing up for the equality of all Israelis. Netanyahu has neglected this core Israeli value. He has neglected his duty to keep the Israeli community equitable and fair. Zionism means taking care of each other, not treading on the weak and disadvantaged. It means social justice.

But let us not forget: last election, hundreds of thousands of Israelis were duped into voting for Lapid thinking it would mean change. Instead, they got another term of Binyamin Netanyahu. The same is true this election: a vote for anyone but Zionist Union is a vote that keeps Netanyahu in power.

The Zionist Union represents the only real alternative to Netanyahu’s Israel. Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni, and our entire list are all committed to putting downward pressure on Israel’s cost of living, and providing affordable and strong housing, healthcare and education to all Israelis, no matter what their background is. We can do this together. Don’t give Netanyahu another term in office. On March 17, vote for the Zionist Union – not Lapid or anyone else – and let’s begin the task of rebuilding this country.

About the Author
MK Hilik Bar is General Secretary of the Labor Party, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and co-chairperson of the Knesset Caucus for Jerusalem.
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