Bezalel: Histadrut evolving to remain relevant for society, workers and retirees

Jan 01, 2023

There is almost no Israeli who does not have an opinion about the Histadrut. The largest labor organization in Israel, which was a partner in the establishment of the State of Israel, frequently makes headlines in the context of labor struggles and the position of influence it has on all sectors of the economy. In an era of many economic and social transformations, the question arises as to what the future holds for an organization established 102 years ago and currently represents more than 800,000 workers and retirees.

“The Histadrut is going through many changes, and I believe that thanks to them, it will remain a relevant and central player in the future labor market as well,” explains Dudu Bezalel, the Histadrut General Manager. Our commitment to regulating economic activity even in times of emergency helped stabilize the local economy and helped the State of Israel recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Besides the concern for the occupational security of unionized workers, the Histadrut demonstrated responsible leadership and acted in the general public’s interest. The world is changing, and the Histadrut is not left behind.”

Under his position as General Manager of the Histadrut, Bezalel has authority over areas of occupation that go slightly beyond the Histadrut’s public image as a workers’ organization. Under his responsibility are a host of employee clubs with consumer power, social activities, and even a new network of cultural halls. All of these are designed to use the Histadrut’s tremendous power as a representative body of many workers, promote the welfare of the members, and strengthen the entire Israeli society.
Bezalel, 40 years old, married, and father of four, started his career in the Histadrut about a decade and a half ago. In the beginning, he served as an assistant to the CEO of Hevrat Ha’ovdim, the economic arm of the Histadrut. After that, he was appointed director of the registry and collection of the organization, where he helped usher in a significant technological revolution. Over the years, he also served as the head of the administrative division, which coordinates the executive activities of the Histadrut, and as a vice president for the service and operation. Towards the end of 2022, he was appointed General Manager of the organization – under chairman Arnon Bar-David.

Bezalel explains that the Histadrut currently focuses on three main areas of activity: dealing with collective agreements and branches that improve workers’ rights, individual representation (within the framework of which every Histadrut member is entitled to representation in its various regions) as well as leading activities to promote the well-being of all Histadrut members – workers and pensioners – in all aspects of life. This field is under Bezalel’s responsibility and has been in a significant growth trend in recent years. “We are investing a lot of resources to develop and expand the organization’s basket of services and to provide added value to all members of the Histadrut,” says Bezalel.

“One of the examples of this is the ‘Together for You’ consumers club – which within a few years of its establishment became the largest social benefits club in the country,” explains Bezalel, who is also the chairman of the club’s board of directors. “More than 380 thousand members have already joined and enjoy thousands of benefits that the Histadrut subsidizes in various categories, such as baskets of basic products for the family and home, recreation and leisure, fitness and sports, insurance and finance, and more. The club includes a credit card at no cost and a prepaid card with a 25 percent discount on purchases in dozens of marketing chains. This is just one example of how the Histadrut leveraged its power to care for workers even as consumers.”

“The Histadrut came out with an economic plan that includes detailed recommendations for decision-makers in areas such as: improving employee incomes, strengthening pensioners, relief for working parents, freezing water rates, electricity, property taxes, and more. There is something to be done, and we are here to ensure it happens.”

In addition, the Histadrut also operates the “Healthy Workers” community, which through an advanced mobile phone application, encourages a healthier and more active lifestyle among its members. “The application allows users to monitor their physical activity and receive an up-to-date snapshot of meeting personal goals of a number of steps per day. Among other things, the application counts the steps taken by the user and allows him to convert them into ‘health coins’. All the coins he has accumulated can be used by the user in the gift shop in the app to receive products or services at no extra charge, such as personal training delivered to your home, sports equipment, and more,” explains Bezalel.

Recently, the welfare activities of the Histadrut also expanded to the field of education. The organization currently operates the “Learning and Advancing” program, which gives every employee who meets the eligibility conditions the opportunity to integrate into various study tracks at reduced tuition and under conditions unique to members of the Histadrut. Bezalel: “As part of the program, we provide members of the Histadrut with the opportunity to complete their education in areas that interest them and can advance them professionally in various tracks adapted to working people and at a subsidized cost. It starts with enrichment courses and professional training, continues to engineering studies for only a thousand shekels per year, and up to first and second degrees in sought-after tracks, including scholarships for Histadrut members.”

Another significant project is the “Friends” culture chain – which operates cultural halls throughout the country. “In an impressive move, the chairman of the Histadrut, Arnon Bar-David, decided to use and upgrade the halls that had stood for years almost unused, all intending to make culture accessible to the residents of the periphery, at a reduced price for every pocket,” says Bezalel.

As part of the move, the Histadrut renovated old halls, which were established during the time of Israel Caesar, and launched a chain of concert clubs. “The market forces alone do not know how to bring the country’s best artists to areas far from the center, and they do not always have the incentive to strengthen local and diverse culture. This is exactly where we enter as a social movement. We saw how, during the COVID-19 period, the arts industry fought for its life, and the Friends’ entry not only helped bring the culture everywhere in Israel – from Nanhariya to Eilat – but supported an entire industry. The chain started with six clubs and is expected to expand to 18 in the next two years. Thanks to us, even the periphery residents enjoy the best shows in Israel Today – and all close to home, at a subsidized price. Instead of paying hundreds of shekels for a concert or play ticket, the prices usually range from 59 to 79 shekels.”

Taking care of pensioners
The Histadrut currently brings together about 70 thousand retirees and runs diverse activities intended for the senior population. Bezalel: “Today, any senior citizen can join the Histadrut for a symbolic price of NIS 12 per month and enjoy all of the organization’s services, including the consumer clubs, and significantly subsidized benefits. Starting with cultural and welfare activities all over the country, through the clubs and colleges for retirees that are operated in the Histadrut districts, and up to benefits in the field of health like a distress button or collective health insurance for drugs that are not in the national basket. In addition, there are more sectoral clubs, which target audiences such as local authority retirees or state employee retirees.”

Changing the image of the Histadrut
Bezalel emphasizes the importance of the Histadrut’s role in promoting various social issues. As mentioned, under his position as the organization’s General Manager, he also serves as the chairman of the Am Oved book publishing house – one of the oldest and most influential book publishing houses in the history of Israeli literature. “I think almost all Israelis know ‘Raspberry Juice,’ one of the most beloved children’s books written in Hebrew,” he says with a smile. “This is just one example of the huge catalog of Am Oved Publishing – which CEO Hanital Suisa currently manages. The book market is extremely complex and is in a difficult situation – with a burning need to reinvent itself. I have also studied this field since I took office to see how we can contribute to it.” Recently, against rising prices and rising inflation, the Histadrut also launched a broad public campaign to protest the rising cost of living.
Bezalel: “We have reached a situation where millions of Israelis, including families where both spouses work, can no longer make ends meet. Our protest, which began under the slogan ‘Enough!’ became a national wave of protests because this situation must not continue. The cost of living is not a matter of right or left. The reality in which the incoming government begins to work is an economic emergency for many of the country’s citizens, and the government has many, many tools to lower the cost of living. Along with the demonstrations, the Histadrut came out with an economic plan that includes detailed recommendations for decision-makers in areas such as improving employee incomes, strengthening pensioners, relief for working parents, freezing water, electricity and property tax rates, and more. There is something to be done, and we are here to ensure it happens. At the same time, Histadrut is preparing to establish an online social supermarket. This is a first-of-its-kind venture, which will begin operating in the coming year and offer products in various categories at discounted prices and parallel imports.” According to him, these steps also change the Histadrut’s image.
“Today’s Histadrut is completely different from what many knew in the past. This is an organization that is not afraid to raise new flags, that is no longer identified with only one side of the political map, an organization that, along with the values of equality and mutual guarantee, also promotes innovation, efficiency, and creativity. From the surveys we do, you can see that the image is also changing,” he says. “For years, the Histadrut headquarters on Arlozorov Street in central Tel Aviv was surrounded by fences. Then, in 2017, Arnon Bar David arrived and decided bravely to remove the fences. It was a practical and symbolic move that illustrated our commitment to open this house to all Israeli society. In cooperation with the municipality, we opened the Histadrut Garden to everyone and brought the public into our home. This small change illustrates the broad changes that the Histadrut is going through and how it sees its future.”

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