Kulanu party chairman Moshe Kahlon held his first major election campaign event on Thursday evening.
The venue, at Kibbutz Givat Brenner south of Rehovot, was crowded to capacity, with a line of supporters outside the door hoping to get in.
Kahlon, a former Likud cabinet minister, presented the 11 top slots on Kulanu’s Knesset slate, and offered the first serious glimpse into the party’s campaign strategy.
“Kulanu” means “all of us,” and every aspect of the party’s campaign emphasizes the boundary-straddling vision the party has for itself.
Kulanu’s first election jingle was played at the event.
“The country belongs to all of us,” the jingle begins, echoing the party’s name, followed by an appeal to the economic frustrations felt by many Israelis: “And we are all here today, to fight for ourselves, because there’s no room left to breathe… The country belongs to all of us. We’re all Kahlon.”
The themes of breaking down social boundaries and tackling economic hardship were reflected in the meticulously selected list announced Thursday.
The first six names (after Kahlon) were already known: retired IDF major general and naval commando Yoav Galant; Ethiopian-born journalist and author Tsega Melaku; US-born, Ivy League-educated historian and former ambassador to Washington Michael Oren; Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria; veteran poverty activist Eli Alaluf; and Kiryat Shmona City Council member Yifat Sasha-Biton.
In just six slots, the list boasts Sephardi Jews and Ashkenazi ones, Ethiopian-born and American-born, representatives of large cities and small periphery towns, women and men.
On Thursday, this diversity was further broadened with the addition of four more names: Eli Cohen, executive vice president of the Israel Land Development Company and a former executive at the American financial firm Standard & Poor’s; the Harvard-educated Roi Volkman, an adviser to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; attorney, at-risk youth advocate and Tel Aviv City Council member Merav Ben Ari; and Shay Babad, a former executive in Israel’s state-owned broadcasting authority and in the shipping company Zim.
By the time one reaches slot number 10, it is apparent that women hold 40 percent of the spots, and the focus on economic expertise is unmistakable, with business executives sitting alongside advocates for the downtrodden and veteran social activists.
In fact, an activist background seems to be the party’s calling card. Melaku was a key figure in the campaign to stop the practice of throwing out Ethiopian blood donations. Azaria, a liberal religious woman, was a leader in Jerusalem’s cost-of-living protests in 2011. Alaluf received Israel’s highest civilian honor, the Israel Prize, for his advocacy work on poverty and social issues. Sasha-Biton is the vice president of a teachers college. Volkman helped establish the Jerusalem youth activism group New Spirit. Even Galant, ostensibly on the list for his defense credentials, chairs a group devoted to aiding wounded and handicapped soldiers.
The party’s post-sectoral emphasis is also reflected in its refusal to join in the left-right fray over diplomatic and defense issues. On Wednesday, Kahlon gave a series of interviews to Israeli media and said Kulanu would support a future peace deal with the Palestinians, but emphasized that there was currently “no partner” on the Palestinian side.
Kahlon also said he would seek the Finance Ministry portfolio in the next government. “I will ask for the Treasury,” he told Channel 10. With the Finance Ministry, Kulanu “can deal with the housing crisis, the cost of living, the social and economic gaps in the State of Israel.”
In an interview with Walla news, Kahlon promised that his party would be in the next government regardless of who wins the elections, as long as the new prime minister is willing to work with Kulanu on housing and social issues.
After the Labor party’s new list was announced Wednesday, Likud and Jewish Home put out statements calling it “extremist.” Yesh Atid and Labor offered the same sentiments, using the very same word, after Jewish Home announced its new list Thursday morning.
But on Thursday, Kahlon side-stepped this mud-slinging. “Don’t let them fool you. The elections in March aren’t between right and left, but between leaders who care and leaders who don’t, between powerful interest groups and the people trying to take them apart,” he told his supporters.
His own complaints about competing parties were more focused: “Likud abandoned the social agenda…. Kulanu is the only party actually championing social issues.”
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.