Ronny Douek/Israel’s next leader must focus on social issues

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Israel’s next leader must focus on social issues
Ronny Douek/Ynetnews /Published: 12.30.14/ Israel Opinion

Op-ed: Public wants reform, and political issue should not overshadow fact that Israeli society is paralyzed. We need to demand real commitment to solving our problems.

The State of Israel’s next prime minister needs the popular leadership qualities and credibility of Moshe Kahlon, the intelligence and sophistication of Isaac Herzog, the charisma of Yair Lapid, and the motivation and determination of Naftali Bennett.

He or she needs to be able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians based on the principle of two states for two people, and to undertake to present such an agreement to the Israeli public in the form of a referendum. But this is not the main issue.

The next leader will have to maintain his or her focus on Israeli society, on the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets three and half years ago. The next leader cannot allow the political issue to overshadow the social one, because a society’s true strength stems from within.

The nature of Israel’s next leader should reflect the consensus in the country, and he or she shouldn’t allow minorities from the right or the left to dictate the political agenda.

The Israeli public wants its next leader to tackle the cost of living in Israel. It needs affordable housing, and wants a better public transport system, water and electricity at sane prices, more public hospital beds, and fewer children in school classrooms. These demands didn’t vanish in the last election and weren’t forgotten during last summer’s war. They are still here, crying out for attention and commitment on the part of the political echelon.

The left-right political division is paralyzing Israeli society and preventing it from falling into line with the world’s developed countries and leading economies. The public comes together and pitches in during times of war, but constructing a just society requires working together in times of peace too. Israel’s next leader will have to command his or her legitimacy, political support and ideas from both the right and the left, from both the free market and the socially oriented school of thought.

Israel’s next leader will have to rebuild – in actions and not in words – the public’s faith in the political system. A dangerous sense of cynicism and indifference is creeping into the mainstream of society. There are already those who don’t see their children’s future in Israel. Nothing could be more dangerous for a democratic society than the moment despair and cynicism become the default.

Social reform, righting the wrongs of the political system and a peace settlement – these are huge tasks that require cooperation. Israel’s next leader has to be a team player – and perhaps we may even need a team of leaders and not a single individual – a team that has the wherewithal to rise above the day-to-day politics and party infighting, to set objectives and timetables, and to work towards them together. In a reality in which five or six individuals see themselves as candidates for the premiership, we need to find a way in which all the potential leaders can become a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Going to the polls just two years after the establishment of the outgoing government leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, but the public must not give in to cynicism, apathy or despair. The campaign period offers an excellent opportunity to revive the national debate that began with the social protests in 2011.

We need this time to demand far more explicit commitments from the politicians; not vague promises, but clear statements on the burning issues at hand – the reform of the public health system, ways to heal the housing market, lowering the cost of living, protecting workers’ rights, and providing a safety net for the poor.

A serious and all-inclusive election campaign can outline the boundaries of the Israeli consensus and give rise to leadership that is committed to steering the ship back on course. To achieve this, we all need to chip in, and not only on voting day.

**Ronny Douek is a social activist and chairman of Zionism 2000 for Social Responsibility.