Netanyahu's Office Rejects Deeming Social Equality a Strategic Goal

Attempts to define war on poverty, closing of gaps as long-term aims 'vehemently rejected' by the Prime Minister's Office.

Or Kashti
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Ofakim, Israel. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz
Or Kashti

The Prime Minister’s Office has “vehemently rejected” the opportunity to place attempts to bridge the gap between rich and poor in a document that will shape the government’s strategies regarding quality of life in Israel over the next 15 years. Attempts to include the war on poverty were also rejected.

The objectives, which were prepared by the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office, headed by Prof. Eugene Kandel, were presented as a “strategic document” and distributed to government ministries last Thursday. The cabinet is expected to discuss them on Sunday.

According to various sources, an attempt by the Social Affairs Ministry to add additional strategic goals to the document, including the reduction of social gaps and advancement of equal opportunity, was “rejected outright by the Prime Minister’s Office.” Other comments by the ministry relating to subjects such as pensions and the deficit in the National Insurance Institute were also rejected.

The purpose of the document is to “promote long-term goals of sustainable growth, alongside improvement of quality of life for all residents of Israel,” according to a proposal submitted to the cabinet. The assessment is intended to “serve as a shared compass assisting the decision-making process, and their goal is to change the trend of ‘business as usual’ in the State of Israel over the next 5–15 years.”

The document also states that its importance “stems from the need to identify and respond to strategic issues that, if not for this process, could ‘fall through the cracks.’”

The stated aims include: “Fostering and making full use of human capital”; increasing productivity and competition in the economy; activities in the area of housing; preparations for an aging population; strengthening the country’s outlying areas; and promoting the “digital Israel program.”

While the plan was presented to the cabinet by Kandel, it was formulated, at least in part, by the international research institute Rand, which won a government tender some five years ago. Rand received about 3.8 million shekels (about $990,000) for its work.

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz wanted to add the issue of reducing social gaps to the strategic assessment. However, according to an official in the Social Affairs Ministry, the National Economic Council “vehemently opposed this amendment and others like it.” According to one official, “members of the council went livid when we tried to mention reducing social gaps, and said there was no chance the [cabinet] decision would relate to the subject.”

Another official said the issue of poverty and the war against it is also absent from the Prime Minister’s Office’s list of strategic aims. This ostensibly goes against promises that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave to the previous social affairs minister, Meir Cohen, and to the chairman of the Knesset War on Poverty Committee, Eli Alalouf. The latter, now an MK from the Kulanu faction who also chairs the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, has previously said Netanyahu told him how committed he was to reducing poverty.

Other initiatives rejected included adding the Social Affairs Ministry and National Insurance Institute as partners in formulating a long-term plan for pensions, which would come under the responsibility of the Finance Ministry. A new plan to focus on welfare services for senior citizens, which has already begun to be formulated, was also rejected.

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