Israel woke up the other day, 14 January, to the news that it is now the leader in poverty rates among the OECD countries. According to the report, about 21 percent of Israelis within the Green Line are living under the poverty line – more than in countries such as Mexico, Turkey, and Chile. In the mid-1990s, Israel’s poverty rate stood at just 14 percent. Further, Israel has the third highest gap between the rich and the poor in the world. A country once founded out of a socialist ethos is now becoming even the most committed liberal’s nightmare. Indeed, the entire world is facing a steady and frightening rise in inequality, but even in this context Israel seems to triumph in this questionable race towards poverty and impoverishment.
On the day this statistic was released, Meretz Chairwoman MK Zehava Galon noted a direct connection between these sad statistics and the general erosion of compassion and retreat from any kind of egalitarianism within the Israeli society. She discussed her proposed bill to allow single mothers to receive child benefits at the same time as they go out to work, noting that if women earn above the ridiculous sum of 641 NIS per months (equivalent of $161) 60% of their child support allowance would be deducted by the government. Galon’s efforts to change this situation were hit by resistance of 51 coalition members who voted against the bill.
There is, of course, great poverty on the West Bank and Gaza. In a press release from last February the Deputy Prime Minister of Palestine, Mohammad Mustafa, and UN Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process, James W. Rawley, outlined a strategic response plan requesting 705 million to address humanitarian needs of 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Dr. Mustafa said: “the past few months have been the grimmest in our history”.
Yet Israel gave a $90 million to settlements last June (as reported by Haaretz: Special $90 Million Grant for West Bank Settlements Included in New Budget 6.8.2015); Israel 24 (TV) reports a 60% rise over the past seven years in the Security Budget. According to Defence Ministry statistics, in 2014 the IDF budget was 26.05 billion NIS, while in 2015, it was 22.4 million NIS. These figures do not include the budgetary supplements for Israel’s 2014 summer war with Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge, which amounted to another 7 billion NIS.
The numbers, quite simply, do not add up. How is it possible that a government that penalizes single mothers who earn the meagre sum of 161$ per month (minimum wage per month- calculated from the annual minimum wage in Israel- is as of April 1 2015 $1173.00 per month), can be generous within its security budget as well as keep pouring money into the settlements? And how is it, that its actions towards the people it has been occupying cost an emergency budget of $705 million in aid? It seems there are ample funds when priorities come to expanding the illegal occupation of another people. As children in their PhysEd classes are told all over Israel: there is no such thing as “I can’t”- there is “I don’t want to”. The Israeli government does not want to improve the living conditions of its most vulnerable citizens. Money is there to promote government policies that are costing both the citizens of Israel and its occupied subjects in money and lives.
But the discrepancy- between those different statistics goes further than the mere number. It is the increasing hardening of hearts and lack of compassion towards suffering within and without Israel, that is most upsetting about these statistics. Galon’s connection between social-economic oppression, lack of compassion, and the retreat from the egalitarian ethos is timely beyond its immediate historical moment. January 16th was the first ever Eleanor Marx Day celebrating the legacy and contribution of Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx; socialist, internationalist, feminist, trade unionist; writer and organizer. Feminists, socialists, and trade unionists worldwide are spending time considering the significance of the heritage of this formidable- and extraordinary- woman to thinking and acting on behalf of social justice.
Eleanor Marx writes: ”the man who could not hear a tale of distress without attempting to relieve it can now brag of abetting acts that endanger the lives of innocent women and children.” The only way to relieve the social-economic suffering within Israel is to reshuffle priorities and end a harmful, occupation that has endangered the lives of men, women and children for too long and has cost many Palestinian and Israeli lives, as well as corroded solidarity and compassion within Israeli society and outside of it. The only way to leave the circle of impoverishment and suffering is to go ahead and bring back compassion and solidarity within and without Israeli society.