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Knesset: Do your job, fight poverty

The latest OECD report shows that hunger and poverty continue unabated in Israel

Israel is probably world class in committees. If the OECD were to measure the amount of committees we have per capita, we would probably rank in first place. Unfortunately (or not) the OECD does not measure number of committees but instead it measures outcomes, procedures and results.

And the outcomes are not substantial. For years, we have been at a complete standstill in the welfare system. We can all see in the latest report on poverty that there was no change in the percentage of people living in poverty and that is a problem as well. When these reports are released, they focus on percentages not absolute numbers. Israel’s population grew in the last 10 years, meaning that if the percentages stayed the same in absolute numbers, we are growing in the number of poor people. I’m sure that there is no malicious intent in presenting the report in this format, but this in itself is part of the problem. We are forgetting that we are dealing with human beings, who need to make a living and survive their difficult circumstances. We are dealing with children who have a need to eat, feel wanted and we forget that 22.7% of the elderly that live in poverty means tens of thousands of elderly people who gave their best years to build this country.

We are a people that are conditioned to forgetting things. We forget all the committees that were formed to deal with poverty and equality. Just after the big uprising in the summer of 2011, Trachtenberg formed his committee and a few months later handed in his recommendations. Who remembers today what the recommendations even were? Who knows what part of it was even implemented into society? Perhaps only a few reporters. If we go even further back, there was the government Itzkovitch committee that made recommendations on measures to fight food insecurity in Israel.  And then what happened? There was a government tender for food insecurity. There were agencies that won the tender but it was premature, one sided and then canceled with a very laconic message; no explanation given.

But the Israeli Knesset is really the most at fault here. One of the most important roles of the Knesset as a parliament has been to supervise the working of the government. Regarding poverty, it has failed miserably.  The Knesset failed in the most basic role which is to protect the people and to serve their needs. It failed because it never questioned the government in social and welfare issues. I recently heard a mayor who said that he remembers that as a child in the 80’s he received food support and extracurricular activities from the school he attended and that the city had helped him develop his skills, the same as every other kid in class. This has changed considerably in the 30 odd years since then. It has changed, perhaps because no one is willing to champion the whole issue of welfare and poverty, perhaps because we were unwilling to admit as a country and as a nation that there is a poverty and inequality problem in a socialist state and that we thought we were. Perhaps we did too much in too short a time.

Looking back does not matter anymore, it is important to look into the future and think of how we can implement changes. Right now, there is a slight change in the air and a look at what may turn into a plan on the horizon. Two major issues are at play here. The first is that the government allocated NIS 200 million towards food security. This is not enough but it is a real shift in thinking that could turn into a game changer. There are many challenges in this respect but the most important part of it is that we see a minister that is talking the talk. We still need to see if he also walks the walk, but if he wobbles – we will be there to support him.

The second is the poverty committee spearheaded by Eli Allaluf, former Chairman of the Rashi Foundation. The committee has set clear goals, has removed itself from the politics and has the Ministry of Finance concerned as to its recommendations. Upon hearing Mr. Allaluf speak and convey his commitment, I am somewhat optimistic as to their recommendations. The challenge that remains is still to ensure that the recommendations are followed through and turned into policy. And most of all, I expect the Knesset to do its part and monitor the process of implementation of the recommendations into everyday life to benefit the poor in Israel.

It is within our power to make these changes a reality and not all of it requires money. Some of it may be government generated awareness and campaigns to support agencies and their initiatives as well as long term programs such as food rescue.

About the Author
Gidi joined Leket Israel as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in July of 2007, bringing with him a wealth of administrative and hands-on experience after nearly two decades in the hi-tech sector in Israel and in the US. He holds a MBA from England's University of Derby and is a Lieutenant Commander (res.) in the Israeli Navy, having served as the head of a Fast Attack Missile Boat unit and the celebrated Fast Attack Patrol Boat division. Away from the office Gidi likes to sail, scuba dive, and read.
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