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February 24, 2012

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 24, 2012 Single Jewish Female Israel's economic concerns MY LIFE & AMBITIONS: I'm a graphic designer, sick of doing bar mitzvah invitations, looking to take my career to the next level. ON OUR FIRST DATE, REMIND ME TO TELL YOU THE STORY ABOUT... How a refrigerator light left on over Shabbat led to my losing a roommate. DON'T BOTHER ASKING ME TO... ...Come to your Shabbat dinner if your idea of a fine wine is "the blue bottle." Yossi Zamir/Flash 90/JTA Hundreds of lsraelis protest Aug. 2, 2011 in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem against the country's soaring cost of living. By Mati Wagner JERUSALEM (JTA)--"It's the economy stupid" was how American political strategist James Carville once summed up the defining issue in U.S. presidential elections. But in Israel, besieged by enemy nations and locked into an ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, security has tra- ditionally trumped all other political agendas. Until now. In part because of a sharp decrease in West Bank terror- ism and the relative quiet in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, Israelis have begun to turn their attention from security concerns to economic ones. Some believe this may help Labor and Meretz, parties that have failed to garner wide support for their dovish posi- tions on security matters but may have more appeal when it comes to socioeconomic issues. "This is the first time since I began writing 23 years ago that there is a chance this elec- tion will not be about hawks and doves but about social justice and how the fiscal budget should be split up," said Daniel Ben-Simon, a former journalist and parliamentar- ian from the Labor Party. His party head, Shelly Yachimovich, has been ar- ticulating a social democratic economic policy that aspires to promote more social justice and equality and less "piggish capitalism." Demonstrations last sum- mer that protested exorbitant housing prices, high costs for basic necessities and growing income inequal- ity managed to mobilize an unprecedented number of Israelis. Called the J14 Move- ment (after the July 14 date it began), the protest drew more than 400,000 Israelis into the streets--more than the number who attended the 1982 rally organized by Peace Now to protest Israel's role in the Sabra-Shatilla massacre. "The J14 movement was and is a crucial momentwhere the people in this country started to look within and think about themselves as individuals," said Daphni Leef, who sparked the pro- test through a Facebook campaign. "They rejected the concept, 'as long as you are alive don't complain.' " The demonstrations con- tinue to have an impact. It was largely due to an increased sensitivity to social justice that the Histradrut labor workers' union with strong ties to the Labor Party, suc- ceeded in launching a strike last week to champion the rights of outsourced, tempo- rary or contracted workers. For years the workers have suffered from low wages, a lack of job security and no pension benefits. Unlike past strikes, there was wide public support for the Histadrut's battle for contracted workers. "We enjoyed a lot of back- ing--on Facebook, on the streets, in the news media," Histadrut spokeswoman Dafna Cohen said of the five-day work stoppage, which ended Feb. 12 with contract workers receiving a minimum monthly wage and other benefits. "People who had their flights delayed, could not conduct transac- tions at the bank or suffered from the strike in other ways showed a lot of empathy and solidarity with us. It was heartwarming." Still, a military confla- gration-such as an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear fa- cilities-would be an instant game-changer. A precedent exists in the run-up to the 2009 national elections when Meretz, aware that its dovish positions on security and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were unpopular, pushed a social-democratic platform. But then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched Opera- tion Cast Lead in an effort to stop the firing of rockets and mortar shells from Hamas- controlled Gaza. The 22-day military operation pushed security issues to the forefront and rendered Meretz's socio- economic platform irrelevant. Meretz ended up with just three Knesset seats, down from five. Even if socioeconomic is- sues become a central issue in the upcoming elections, it is not clear that parties such as Labor or Meretz will be its beneficiaries. Lior Chorev, a political strategist from the centrist Kadima Party, predicted that the renewed interest in socioeconomic issues would not necessarily strengthen Labor and Meretz. "Like Occupy Wall Street, this summer's protesters were naive in the sense that they did not offer any specific solutions," Chorev said. "They were just a bunch of people-- many of them professionals-- who do notwant to change the social order, just make life a little better for themselves. Nobody wants to go back to federation, Israel's largest socialism." sustains a more just society." Also, despite all the criti- cism, the Israeli economy under Prime Minister Benja- min Netanyahu's government appears remarkably healthy. Unemployment is below 6 percent, compared to slightly above 8 percent in the United States and 10 percent in the European Union. Israel's GDP grew 4.8 percent in 2011 and the Bank of Israel is predict- ing another 2.8 percent gain in 2012. And the Netanyahu govern- ment has been responsive to public concern about the economy. Evenbefore the pro- tests, Netanyahu instituted reforms aimed at bringing down the cost of housing. The National Housing Committee Law, which was passed by the Knesset in August, will streamline the process of al- locating and zoning land for housing and provide financial aid to families buying or rent- ing homes. Netanyahu also established a committee to consider ways of combating the concentra- tion of wealth in the hands of a few dozen tycoons. And in the wake of the protests, the Trajtenberg Commit- tee was established and has presented a number of sug- gestions to help the middle class, the centerpiece of which was free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. The response has been so extensive that some are now concerned that a populist push on social issues might lead to the adoption of impru- dent economic policies. "There is a danger that the very positive awakening of the Israeli consumer and worker to the fact that they are being so exploited by a few oligarchs will be taken advantage of by the social lobby and other leftist groups to institute high taxes on the middle class--the most productive classes of society," said Daniel Doron, director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress. But Labor's Ben-Simon is optimistic. "The right has adopted the left's idea of a two-state solu- tion for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now the challenge is the economic question," he said. "After moving too far in the direction of neoliberal capitalism, which has ignored the needs of the poor, we will hopefully adopt social democ- racy-not the socialism of the 1950s and 1960s, but a form of economic thinking that TJCDate Profile: Y'dat613 ABOUT ME: Oreative, funny, warm-hearted, religious, and a great cook! Looking to settle down, but not to settle. 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