There is a Future for Israeli Politics (Maybe)Israel’s politics is a hot button issue both internationally and right here in Morningside Heights. That’s why it’s always a pleasure when Daniel Brovman stops by the Cub Pub to offer some political insight about Israeli’s political climate.
The results of this past January’s Israeli legislative elections show that the country is in the midst of a political shift towards centrism. The Yesh Atid Party, known in English as the Future Party (translated laterally as “There is a Future”), was founded just last year on a platform of moderatism. This year they won 19 seats in Israel’s legislative body, the Knesset.
Yesh Atid was created by Israeli actor, television anchor, author, and now politician, Yair Lapid as a moderate answer to Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Yisrael Beteinu coalition and the liberal but polarizing Kadima and Labor parties. Prior to the formation of his party, Lapid had been increasingly vocal about the disconnect between the important issues for average Israelis and the kind of political rhetoric being used by Knesset legislative bigwigs. Instead, Yesh Atid aims to represent the concerns of the middle class by addressing economic and domestic issues such as education and employment.
On May 3rd the party announced a revised, eight point platform that it will pursue throughout the year, highlighting a centric and egalitarian perspective compared to other political parties. The points can be paraphrased as follows:
1. Changing State priorities, with an emphasis on civil life – education, housing, health, transportation and police, as well as improving the condition of the middle class.
2. Changing the system of government.
3. Equality in education and the draft: schools must provide essential classes for all students, everyone will be drafted into the Army, and all the citizens will be encouraged to seek work.
4. War against government corruption.
5. Growth and economic efficiency – creating growth engines as a way to fight poverty, combating red tape, removing barriers, improving the transportation system, reducing the cost of living and housing costs, and improving social mobility through assistance to small businesses.
6. Education legislation in cooperation with teachers’ unions, eliminating most of the matriculation exams, raising the differential education index, increasing school autonomy.
7. Enact a constitution to regulate tense relations between population groups in Israel.
8. Strive for peace according to an outline of “two states for two peoples,” while maintaining the large settlement blocs and ensuring the safety of Israel.
These eight tenets represent the current sea change in Israeli politics. Israelis are tired and angry of being forced to pay high tax rates while being told, time and again, that the increased funding is needed for security. But while the government focuses on defense, more and more Israelis grow dissatisfied on domestic issues.
Case in point, 2011′s “Cottage Cheese Riots” demonstrated the simple fact that Israel was becoming unaffordable for its citizens. In the Spring of that year Israelis rose in protest of the rising domestic food costs – specifically cottage cheese – as well as rising housing costs and the inability for younger and middle class Israelis to earn a living wage. Protesters represented A cross-section of Israeli society, but most numerous and vocal among them were the dissatisfied younger
Yesh Atid has been able to quickly gain a following by focusing its politics on solving these economic problems. But not all Israeli’s are behind some of Yesh Atid’s economic reforms. The party promises to increase growth and lower government spending by cutting special privileges provided to Orthodox Jews. In Israel, Orthodox Jews are not required to serve in the army and can gain exemption to study in Talmudic schools. Secular Israelis see these privileges as essentially a backroom deal between a coalition of political players. As long as the Orthodox remain exempt they will continue to support the primary political parties in the Knesset. It comes as no surprise then that Yesh Atid has ruffled a few feathers with their secularist politics..
Although the platform presented by the Yesh Atid party is perhaps overly optimistic, it represents Israel’s best step towards achieving domestic peace. Meanwhile, the Likud Beiteinu platform focuses on Israel’s international issues, specifically dealing with the Arab world and the threat of Iran. Netanyahu’s speeches on the international stage are representative of this focus. When he got up in front of the United Nations General Assembly last year, he rallied about Iran’s nuclear program and not about economics or social issues. The Yesh Atid platform is a refreshing change for Israelis, since its only international agenda is the support of a two-state solution.
Yair Lapid’s new moderate party is still finding its way in Israeli Politics, but by the next election it will have become a big political player. Indeed, Yesh Atid may begin to dig into Netanyahu’s Knesset Seats sooner than later. The party is popular among Israel’s rising middle class, and their support will only increase as the party becomes more visible on the public stage. However, Israel’s vocal ultra-orthodox community is poised to put a stop to Yesh Atid and their secularist demands, which now include public transport on shabbat and the right to marry for homosexual couples. It remains to be seen if they can actually put their reforms into law, but Netanyahu and his Likud Beiteinu alliance already feel the pressure on domestic and social issues. After January’s election upset, maybe Bibi (Netanyahu) will feel the need to support some domestic reforms himself. Maybe.
Top photo by Sebastian Scheiner/AP, Middle by Jason Szenes/EPA