By ALAN LEVY Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying that “poverty is the worst form of violence!” Child poverty is a terrible problem in Israel that we in the Diaspora rarely hear about.
The Jerusalem Post recent had an article on this very issue. The article claimed that “more than 450,000 children are at high risk of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, severe disability without access to proper resources, or a lack of basic rights, a non-governmental organization. “Furthermore …’Israeli children are exposed to a tremendous array of many different pressures, to which few children in the world are similarly exposed,’ said Yizhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, in a speech”.
The current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is not regrded as a social conservative, although he is a fiscal conservative.
Of course, Israel does have a a social welfare system but it does not meet the needs of many citizens, neither Jewish or Arab. The OECD reports: “Education narrows income gaps, enhances social cohesion, and provides a fundamental source of economic growth. This is a particularly useful tool in Israel, given that almost half of all children starting primary school belong to low earning Arab-Israeli and Ultra-Orthodox communities”.
Current analysis shows that… “Nearly a third of Israel’s children live under the poverty line, more than triple the rate in 1980, and more than 80,000 lack legal status and the basic rights associated with it.” My thesis is that much of Diaspora Jewry think of Israel naïvely as “the land of milk and honey” when it is anything but . Living in Israel for the average person is far more difficult than for the average person in North America.
The President of Israel, Ruven Rivlin, recently stated: ““Children are not only the adults of the future, they are people of the present, and a state should protect all its citizens”. He said this upon receiving a report on children’s welfare in Israel from an NGO known as Kadman. Remember also, this is a country that has tax rates that we are not used to seeing in North America: “The standard rate of company tax in Israel in 2014 was 26.5%. Dividends are taxed at rates ranging from 25% to 32%, resulting in a combined tax burden on distributed corporate profits of 45% to 50%”. Individual tax rates are also through the roof! Personal income tax rates (for both the employed and self-employed) start at 10% and increase to a maximum of 50% (at present, on a gross monthly income of about USD 17,000).
To be fair Israel does have a burden that most Western countries do not have to absorb: Ensuring that the military must be appropriately funded. Israel spendz about 6.0% of its total budget on defence, which works out to around $18.2 billion US. This is one of the highest proportions of military spending by any country in the world, aside from Saudi Arabia which spends about 9.3% of its budget on military spending. (The United States, in comparison, spends 3.8 % of its budget on defence.) Of course, this places a huge strain on Israel. Just think of the money that could go toward social needs, like proper care for children. Economic growth must translate into social progress. “Presently, the benefits of growth are not trickling down. We must make growth inclusive by applying whole-of-government approaches to reduce inequalities” the OECD recently reported on social spending in Israel.
Many of my friends in Israel are social workers. I’m told that, on average they are given between 100-250 cases to handle. As a labour leader once told me at the collective bargaining table, anyone can be made inefficient - just keep piling on the work. It’s not possible to meet the needs of poor troubled children with such a caseload to manage. It results in bandaid management: One does what they can for the crisis of the day. Instead of regularly giving the assistance needed in a consistent fashion, it’s “What fires do I try to put out today?”
The food rescue organization Leket Israel, which distributes millions of meals across the country annually, said that unfortunately, the data presented in the report “do not surprise us.” So it’s time for us in the Diaspora to do two things: Ensure when we donate to Israel that we do not forget the children of Israel by donating to groups that assist children; the second is to lobby the Israeli government to resolve the outrageous fashion in which Israel children who are poor are treated by the government!
We in the Diaspora are also the wealthiest Jewish population in history but, as we’ve grown wealthier our donations have not risen commensuarate with that increase in wealth. Unlike our grandparents and parents many of us now see Israel in a different light. We are not concernedabout the possibility of another Holocaust and we have become more materialistic and narcissistic - just like North American society as a whole.
Let us ensure child poverty is dealt with both in Canada and in Israel so that in both societies there child should ever go to bed hungry or cold! Many of us unfortunately do not know the true meaning of TZEDAKAH!