Isaac Herzog, head of the Labor faction in the Knesset, spoke to Hadassah Members at Centennial Convention.
Isaac Herzog, head of the Labor faction in the Knesset and a former minister of welfare and social services, told Hadassah's Centennial Convention at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on Tuesday that the early Israeli elections called for January 2013 were going to be not only about the traditional issues of peace and security but also about social justice.
Therefore, he said, those who think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reelection is a sure thing could be proven wrong.
"There are two main topics in this election," he told the conference at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem the day after the Knesset voted to disperse and called early elections for January 22. "One is the Iranian threat, over which we are all basically united that the threat must be removed. Netanyahu will try to use this issue to his advantage. But social justice has also emerged as a main issue. Labor Party chair Shelly Yachimovich is a staunch advocate of civil rights and social justice. That is the battleground for these elections."
Herzog cited the protests in the summer of 2011, in which, he said, "a full 5 percent of the Israeli population went out into the streets to call for social justice," as an indication that social concerns were going to play a greater role on the Israeli political scene. He noted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once the leading political issue, "is no longer a main issue of the campaign."
Herzog reviewed the main challenges facing Israeli society, which he confronted as minister of welfare and social services for four years until 2011: an aging population with 10% in retirement, 100,000 of whom are immigrants at risk of poverty; 250,000 Holocaust survivors who require special services; 10% of the population with disabilities and 20% living in poverty.
Herzog said the main way to lower the poverty rate was to increase the participation of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities in the workforce by working with each sector to remove the respective barriers. He thanked Hadassah for its programs with these communities to address these problems.
Herzog expressed optimism that Israel would overcome its social difficulties.
"Despite our clashes we know how to talk to each other and understand each other."
He thanked Hadassah "for your invaluable support of Israel, which is a major part of our national strength." On a personal note, Herzog said that as the son of the late Israeli president Chaim Herzog and grandson of first chief rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, he remembered the late Charlotte Jacobson, then president of Hadassah, from his childhood.