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A quarter of Israelis live under the poverty line, according to the annual poverty report published by the National Insurance Institute yesterday. According to the report, presented by NII director general Esther Dominissini and Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, poverty rose by 0.6 percent in 2009, putting 15,000 new families under the poverty line. Most of the poor families are from the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, the report said.

In 2009, Israel had 435,000 families under the poverty line, or 1,774,800 people, 850,300 of them children. This represents a significant rise from the 783,600 poor children registered in 2008. In many of the families under the poverty line at least one breadwinner lost his job or had his work conditions worsened because of the financial crisis. In some families, both breadwinners lost their jobs.

"Poverty has indeed risen, but we need to remember this was a year of crisis and rising unemployment," Dominissini said. "The already-known poverty among Arabs and ultra-Orthodox became more stark, and newly laid-off workers joined them. The crisis was temporary and this is temporary poverty - we can see it by differences in consumption between the long-term and short-term poor."

The poorest population group appears to be Arab residents of East Jerusalem, whose share in the worst poverty section is five times greater than their share in the general population. The chances of ultra-Orthodox and Arabs from other areas to be very poor is also greater than the general population, and most of the two groups are in the lowest to middle third of the income scale among the poor.

Poverty among Israeli families increased from 19.9 percent in 2008 to 20.5 percent in 2009. Poverty among children went up from 34 percent to 36.3 percent in the same period, while poverty of families with children expanded from 24.5 percent in 2008 to 26.8 percent in 2009. The sharpest rise was observed among families with one to three children, from 17.8 percent in 2008 to 20.2 percent in 2009.

However, the number of poor elderly people dropped by 9,300 in 2009, from 22.7 percent in 2008 to 20.1 percent in 2009. Dominissini described the drop as proof that "focused policy succeeds in reducing poverty if you invest where you need to."

"If social issues concerned the government as much as taking care of the real-estate bubble, the poverty bubble wouldn't have exploded in our faces," said Latet charity organization head, Eran Weintraub. "So much so that at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Israel is in the last place on the OECD ranking."

The NII director general called for a "pincer movement" to tackle poverty. "We should expand the Orot employment program, activate negative income tax, raise the minimum wage and look into empowerment grants for children and changing the income support system," she said. "We can't fight poverty without setting priorities."

"The data is not surprising," said attorney Oshrat Maimon of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. "It accurately reflects the policy of a government that declared it had a priority of bringing down poverty but has postponed its implementation time after time, while its actual policy increases the damage done to the weaker sections of the population. The government and Knesset must change their view of people who live in poverty, show them respect and promote a policy that fights poverty and not the poor."

"More investment should be made into appropriately-paid employment," Weintraub said.