Campaigns for the 2020 American election have begun. Candidates will address every imaginable issue including immigration, gun control, foreign policy and others. Here too, politicians talk about lots of things but in Israeli politics there is really only one issue that matters.
The Israeli political spectrum is completely absorbed in an Arab-Israeli conflict for which there are no answers. The Palestinians were offered statehood in 1947, 2000, 2008, and in an underreported meeting at the Obama White House in March 2014. Even if Tamar Zandberg became Prime Minister, I have no confidence that the Palestinians would sign an agreement. In the meantime, regardless of how much some Israeli politicians talk about domestic issues, they consistently neglect them.
A recent report found that among OECD members Israel has the worst transportation system. Schools are overburdened, hospitals are overcapacity.
Israel is the “Startup Nation” and our hightech sector produces amazing outcomes but it accounts for a small percentage of jobs nationwide where economic and educational gaps are large, and it shows.
I have lived in Israel for more than 10 years, and I have known many olim who ended up returning to their countries of origin saying that incomes were low, bills high, and commutes unbearable. Their very legitimate complaints go on, and they often say that they do not receive the support they need as immigrants to make it here and find jobs that meet their needs. Many of the things they find challenging about life in Israel are things native Israelis also struggle with but the Israelis have nowhere else to go back to.
Israelis constantly tell me that they do not know why I am here. They want to go to the US. This is an affront to Zionism and a danger to the country.
One way to understand the political spectrum is by asking what it means to be a strong country. Some leftists think that to be strong is to be morally strong (in accordance with their own concept of morality). Some rightists think that to be strong is to be expansive, uncompromising and to break adversaries into submission.
Our strength does depend both on our morality and our ability to defend against adversaries. Our military, though, is only as strong as the resources we provide it with and our morality is not only a question of how we relate to non-Jews, it also depends on our social services. Morality and defense are two of the reasons that our strength most fundamentally depends on the strength of our economy and the amount of tax revenue it is able to generate to support our army and social services.
An Israel whose citizens want to leave cannot claim to be strong and it is not the olim who have gone back or the Israelis who want out who are to blame. Israel is consistently near the bottom of OECD rankings.
We can do better. Going all the way back to 2011 Moshe Kahlon enacted reforms that opened the cellular market and significantly reduced prices. More recently, not only have his initiatives stabilized housing prices nationwide, a worthy accomplishment on its own but prices have gone down. Have housing prices tanked completely? No, but that would not be desirable anyway. As Finance Minister, Kahlon raised the minimum wage, doubled the salaries of soldiers, reduced tariffs, reduced the cost of after-school programs and more. Other reforms are still underway.
I am not telling you that Kahlon is perfect. I have my own disagreements with him and areas where I believe he fell short but we have to look at the big picture and we have to look at it with realistic expectations and political sensibilities.
Kahlon does not need to be perfect. The appointment of a socially engaged Finance Minister was never going to solve all of the world’s problems in one Knesset term. The big picture is that he is a socially conscious minister with a results-based approach, and regardless of what other politicians and generals say in their speeches, Kahlon is the only political player with a record of enacting reforms that impact daily life.
Time will tell what the election’s outcome will be but regardless of how many seats Kulanu ends up with, it is clear that Kahlon will be in the next Knesset. He is capable of joining any imaginable coalition and recent polls make it hard to imagine any coalition enlisting the needed votes without him. So when the formation of the next administration is negotiated and other parties with their career generals and politicians focus on a conflict for which they lack answers, Kahlon will prioritize a domestic agenda. As long as coalition formation depends on Kulanu, Kahlon will remain Finance Minister and the party will focus on socially minded legislation with every additional Knesset seat they pick up.
Baruch Stein is an American born writer living in Jerusalem, previous columns of his have appeared in media outlets in both Israel and the United States. He is not employed by the Kulanu Party and has not received any other benefit or form of payment for writing this piece.