The bread of poverty: Israel in the eyes of the bottom decile
By Bambi Sheleg | 25/03/2010
Poverty has become a widespread phenomenon in Israeli society. According to the figures appearing in the Central Bureau of Statistics' yearbook, more than 20 percent of Israel's citizens are poor. It should be pointed out that 30 percent of those classified as poor are persons who do have a livelihood but whose earnings are insufficient for providing them with even a minimal, respectable level of subsistence. The message that these figures are conveying is that, in terms of housing, education, social services and daily diet, Israel's poor are at a level that is far below what could be called acceptable.
In recent years, Israeli society has adjusted far too well to this intolerable situation. Since the poor and those who have deteriorated to a state of poverty in this country have been largely abandoned and are now expected to fend for themselves, many volunteer organizations and private individuals have stepped in, trying to fill the vacuum left by the state, which is turning its back on the weaker members of society.
We are today witnessing a form of injustice that is of enormous dimensions and which is undermining one of the pillars on which the Jewish state rests. The State of Israel was founded on the principle that all Jews are responsible for the fate of their brothers and sisters. Yet, that principle, which has also been a constant source of pride for the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, is today being trampled on. Israelis were never brought up on foreign ideas that maintain that a country's economic strength is determined by the creation of unemployment on a massive scale, by tax cuts for the affluent and, concomitantly, by the slashing of family allowances on which a large segment of the population depends and without which its economic survival is being jeopardized. It is an illusion to consider such a situation to be the mark of a country's economic strength. What we have here instead is an illusion that is meant to persuade us to harden our hearts toward people who are living in our midst, despite the fact that, only by chance, is our lot in life any better than theirs.
The term “scandalous” is the only proper epithet for an approach that considers all poor people to be guilty of a thinly-veiled form of fraud and which thus justifies slashing family allowances across the board for all recipients, including those whose right to receive an allowance cannot be challenged on any grounds. If there are recipients who are guilty of fraud, the National Insurance Institute must invest all necessary means to uncover their deception. However, the presence of frauds among the recipients of family allowances in no way warrants the wholesale sentencing of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to a life whose chief feature is constant deprivation.