Israel’s National Insurance Institute published a report today suggesting that the level of poverty in Israel was the highest among Western nations in 2014, with about one in three children living in poverty. Members of Israel’s ruling coalition responded with skepticism. Bezalel Smotrich (The Jewish Home), for example, argued “I have five children and I don’t think two of them are poor.”
One of my Facebook friends responded with “Someone should tell him that one in four children is an Arab!”
Zehava Galon (Meretz) took Smotrich’s quip more seriously:
The real issue here is not so much Smotrich, whose statistical comprehension makes him likely to drown in a 20 cm deep pool. The issue is that Smotrich’s statement reflects the way members of this government understand the problems facing Israeli citizens: If things are good in my house, then everyone’s is good.
The poverty statistics have been unfathomable under Netanyahu’s rule: 1.7 million people are living under the poverty line today.
So everything is great if things are good in Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich’s sectors [Settlements]—the schools have small classes, the towns are clean and the apartments are subsidized. All thanks to the hundreds of millions of shekels the Jewish Home Party pours into settlements, and only in settlements.
This same money is not given to assist the most vulnerable populations in Israel, the 1.7 million people fighting food insecurity and unable to buy medicine–the very people that this government simply doesn’t care about.
Meretz’s official response was more comprehensive:
Currently there are 776,500 children living in poverty in Israel. Twenty thousand children were added to the numbers only this past year. According to the National Insurance Institute’s report, this year has seen an increase in the percentage of people living in poverty, which now constitutes 18.8% of Israel’s population. Some of the people the report features work hard, very hard, and yet live in extreme poverty. These figures are the result of the aggressive, mindless and heartless policies created by governments which have completely abandoned their duty towards citizens.
Netanyahu, the finance minister and the government are responsible for this intolerable situation.
Please notice that the government found an amazing solution to the poverty problem: Instead of adopting the recommendation of the Alalouf Committee for reducing poverty, the government chose to adopt a change in the method of calculating [poverty](!) Of course, it will do nothing for those living in poverty, but it will do wonders to the number of poor families recorded in the National Insurance Institute and international reports. This is a cynical and ugly step that reflects the spirit of the entire budget proposal – selling illusions and deceiving the public.
Netanyahu’s policy over the years has brought Israel’s national economy to a state of emergency. Today Israel is leading Western countries in poverty and social inequality. This is a result of cruel policies including raising VAT, cutting social security benefits and the elimination of public housing.
We in Meretz have formulated a comprehensive plan to end poverty. It includes raising the minimum wage, ending the outsourcing of public sector employment, a comprehensive rehabilitation of public housing and more.
Meretz chair MK Zahava Galon said: “A decade of Netanyahu and two years of Yair Lapid brought Israel’s economy to a record in shameful and abject poverty data. The reality in which Israeli citizens are the poorest in the West and one in three children lives in poverty is nothing short of a national emergency. The government must take real steps to improve the situation: it should increase social security benefits, integrate different sectors into the labor market, end the outsourcing of public sector jobs to contractors and the abolish tax exemptions for wealthy individuals and companies. ”
MK Ilan Gilon, the chair of the caucus to fight poverty, said: “The rise in poverty among working people proves that the government’s economic approach has failed. Prioritizing economic growth at the expense of people is cruel negligence which has been taking a heavy toll on almost two million Israeli citizens living in poverty. The state of Israel has become unsavory and unliked by the OECD: it ranks high in all negative parameters and low in all positive ones.