Insanity Reigns: Paying Countries to Move Their Embassies to Jerusalem

An article in the May 1st issue of the Jerusalem Post reports that there are an estimated 200,000 elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel today, a quarter of whom are living in poverty.  Some 50,000 survivors in Israel are living a low quality of life, according to Aviv for Holocaust Survivors, an organization that works to inform survivors about their rights and helps them navigate the bureaucratic process, all free of charge.

A May 24th article in Ha’aretz reported that the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem were shut, as striking ministry workers blocked all entrances and prevented entry. The workers declared a general strike, closing all foreign ministry offices and missions around the world. The workers are protesting the employment conditions of Israeli diplomats and the Finance Ministry’s decision to cut their salaries over the renewed sanctions.

A report issued at the end of 2018 by the National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi) indicated that 1,780,500 Israelis – including 466,400 families and 814,800 children, some 21.2% of the population – are living below the poverty line. The report was based on data gathered by the Central Bureau of Statistics for 2017, the most recent year for which comprehensive information was available.  While the overall poverty rate increased from 18.5% in 2016, the proportion of families living in poverty decreased from 28.8% in 2016 to 28.4% in 2017.

According to a story in YNet in January 2019, 51% of senior citizens sponsored by the ‘Latet’ organization were not able to afford to heat their homes this past winter. Instead, they stayed indoors, trying to keep themselves warm.  An alarmingly high number of Israeli senior citizens live below the poverty line. As the days shortened and temperatures dropped, the elderly face a particularly difficult time. Since pensions and welfare benefits do not cover their basic needs, Israeli senior citizens stay home in winter, wrapped in blankets and clad in warm winter clothes.

Yet, in the face of these social welfare shortages (and this is just a sampling) this week Minister of Foreign Affairs Yisrael Katz is planning to present a monetary incentive plan to the government to allocate NIS 50 million (about US $ 14.3 million) to encourage countries to locate their embassies in Jerusalem.  The money will be earmarked for financing expenses related to the establishment or transfer of the embassy or ambassador’s residence, locating and allocating suitable land in Jerusalem, and additional assistance once in the city, according to a story in Israel Hayom.

So……(a) we let Holocaust survivors live in poverty; (b) we can’t afford to pay foreign ministry workers a decent wage; (c) we don’t have the money to help the elderly heat their homes in winter;  and (d) we allow almost a quarter of the population to live in poverty.  But, we have NIS 50 million to assist foreign governments to move their embassies to Jerusalem. Seriously? Is this responsible government?  Or are we living in that imaginary village of Chelm which was populated by fools, according to the folk tales of Eastern Europe?

By the dictionary definition, Israel would be insane to bear this cost.  Insanity is defined as madness, extreme foolishness and/or irrationality.  Spending this kind of money when there are so many more pressing social needs for which the government claims it does not have the funds is, for want of a better term, simply insane.  Let’s hope that someone with in government with a brain will say NO!

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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