LET’S FINALLY TALK ABOUT THE ISSUES
Blue and White, both the party and the country, must finally awake. Retrieve the election campaign at the last minute. Don’t let Bibi define the agenda – even the scandals and corruption, as ugly as they are, the lies and the mud-slinging in which he specializes-with the media playing into them- they must be sidestepped. The accusations taken from Donald Trump’s repertoire against Hillary, cellphones instead of emails, mental illness instead of Parkinson’s; Ignore it. Discuss the issues, the failures of the years in which Binyamin Netanyahu has been prime minister and the bigotry of the legislation during the 20th Knesset led by his Likud Party coalition.
Ironically, Netanyahu expresses greater belligerence to his own people, those he calls “Smolanim” than to Hamas and Jihad Islami, who are literally playing with us. He spits out the word “smolanim” constantly. I once counted this “dirty word” 17 times in a half hour message to the people.) Let us forget about Left and Right. In this eleventh hour let us look at the issues.
Bitahon, unfortunately remains our primary concern. Netanyahu nurtures Hamas, so he doesn’t have to make a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority and Abbas. He and his tough coalition partners allow Hamas to call the shots, fiery balloons, to blackmail us, while the kibbutzim in Otef Aza live through hell. Where is Mr. Security now? But not all is military, and no one is more aware of that than our military itself, who call for humanitarian rebuilding in Aza, after we have brought back deterrence.
And speaking of deterrence, Putin is Netanyahu’s best friend, but he hasn’t prevented Iran from encroaching on our border on the Syrian Golan. Trump is his buddy, but his recognition of the Golan, a personal present to Netanyahu’s election, gives Iran and Hizballah justification for terror operations. It also didn’t stop Trump from ordering American troops to withdraw from Syria, leaving us more vulnerable to Iranian attack.
And when have we last heard a Likud platform on domestic issues? They don’t deign to tell the people their platform as to how they are going to improve the standard of living of Israeli citizens. Israelis who must pay higher prices for everyday foodstuffs, while the Netanyahus worry about champagne.
How can we not challenge Netanyahu on the fact that the OECD Economic Survey of Israel points out that Israel lags behind OECD countries in areas such as poverty and housing. Housing we talk about. But poverty? “Poverty is especially high among the elderly in Israel,” declares the OECD Report. And the image of a pensioner in a TV documentary having to decide between eating and heating his house on cold winter days brings heartache.
But poverty can not only be judged on an individual level. It has to be seen as undermining Israeli survival as a whole. Disadvantaged communities who do not have a high level of education and the ability to work in the labor force at today’s level of technology, not only have a lower standard of living themselves but they affect the productivity of the. whole society. The OECD Report points out that Israel has a high level of inequality with the Israeli Arab and Haredi populations experiencing higher than average rates of poverty, and lower levels of labor force participation and educational attainment.
Howard Rosen, an economist with almost forty years experience working on economic policy in the United States, points out that the fate of the whole country will be affected by whether Israel can raise productivity in these populations. “Education is the great equalizer, It is the engine for the development of our economy and society has hardly been mentioned in this campaign. It is shocking to learn that Israel invests less in education at all levels, than the other OECD countries. Better education for everyone, computer savviness is needed in the Arab and Haredi sectors to pull them out of poverty, allow them to contribute to Start-Up Israel. In order to do this, teachers must earn more. Teaching must be seen as an elite profession. Classes must be smaller.The world is divided between those who know technology and those who don’t.
Much lip service is given to these goals, but looking at Bagrut scores which were published for the first time last year( and why did it take so long for such transparency) tells us what we can all guess. The average grade in the Mathematics Bagrut for children from schools around Tel Aviv, Petach Tikveh, and Modiin are in the 80’s while in Arab cities and towns in the periphery the average is in the low 60’’s. And although little has been discussed publically, Israel has signed bi-lateral agreements to bring an unlimited number of Hi-Tech guest-workers from India to work in Israel.There is no limit on how many or how long they can stay. “This will squeeze out the Arabs and Haredim just beginning to penetrate the field, and limit the possibilities of jobs in the field for Israelis,” says Rosen.
There are many other questions on domestic issues. Where is the out-of-box thinking about the crisis of medicine in Israel, the lack of hospital beds, nurses and doctors and medical schools?
But most of all, Netanyahu and his Likud coalition has created a shift in values, undermined Israel’s public institutions; the judicial, the media, the diplomatic corps, even the army, and police, limiting the balance of power necessary for democracy, putting them at the service of the prime minister. One man who is Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, Minister of Communications and Prime Minister can only go by the name of dictator, with one goal which is his pursuit of power. To this end, he incites one community against the other.
The Likud Coalition in the 20th Knesset has perpetrated more hate legislation and divisiveness than any other in memory. It undermined Israel as both Jewish and democratic by emphasizing the Jewish over democratic character of the State, which until now was held in sensitive balance. It targeted “the other” in the society, the Israeli Arabs, the foreign workers, the non-Jews, but also Jews who identify as Reform and Conservative. The Arrangements Law authorizes illegal settlements in the West Bank, the Likud coalition Nation Law views Israel as the nation-state exclusively of the Jewish people, and not of all its citizens. And violates Israel’s Basic Law which asserts the values of human dignity and liberty. The 20th Knesset also demoted the Arabic language from being one of the official languages of the State of Israel to being a language with a special status. It has done everything it could do to alienate its non-Jewish populations, including the Druze population which is well integrated into the Israeli armed forces.
Fears of even greater diminishment of the Supreme Court are envisioned if a Likud Coalition is established in the 21st Knesset. Ayelet Shaked of the New Right seeks legislation whereby the Knesset can override a Supreme Court Law. She has also advocated changing the way Supreme Court judges are chosen. Rather than a professional committee of judges, they would be chosen by the Minister of Justice,
and approved by the Knesset, thereby politicizing the Supreme Court.
We have witnessed a creeping darkness in the past Knesset and now it is feared that, with Kahanism legitimized and an extreme Right agenda in the 21st Knesset we will wake up to an eclipse of democracy altogether.