The Right Take on Social Welfare in Israel

Charities become pipeline funneling public money to the poor, as the social welfare net continues to get depleted.

Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan
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Avirama Golan
Avirama Golan

Remember the message Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his ministers during the heated days of the summer's social protests? "Be Kahlons," he said. But it's not at all clear if he meant they should be as much like Moshe Kahlon as the communications and social affairs minister showed himself to be this week, when he denounced food distribution by charity groups as "infringing on human dignity."

Kahlon is at least consistent. As communications minister, he has not hesitated to regulate the cell phone industry. And as social affairs minister, he is not hiding his displeasure at the charity culture that he sees as replacing a more equitable distribution of resources. In that sense, the Likud minister is expressing a traditionally left-wing position, in contrast to his Labor predecessor, Isaac Herzog - a sworn advocate of nurturing nonprofit activity as an alternative to state support.

Protest in Tel Aviv, Saturday, August 6, 2011Credit: Moti Milrod

What began as enthusiastic ideology in the Olmert government, which provided significant funding for nonprofits in education and social welfare - but also invested in those areas itself - has become, under Netanyahu, a game whose rules have been changed. The government will slash funding, poor families will have difficulty coping, and the growing gaps will be plugged by charities distributing sugar, rice and hot lunches.

In 2010 the Justice Ministry approved tens of millions of shekels in government funding for 320 nonprofits that distribute food or help the needy in other ways. Of the funding, NIS 33 million came from a fund made up of charitable bequests to the state, and tens of millions more came from other government sources.

It would appear that the Labor Party under Ehud Barak was able to join Netanyahu's coalition because it met Herzog's demand (and that of Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini ) that the government support such nonprofits. This agreement was depicted as an achievement for Labor and the Histadrut that forestalled the dismissal of the tens of thousands of people who work for charity groups.

That was when, for one brief moment, the curtain was raised and we were allowed a glimpse of what social welfare in Israel looks like today: hundreds of nonprofits employing thousands of workers, including social workers, educators and managers; many are hired through employment agencies and don't get benefits. These charities have become the pipeline funneling public money to the poor, as the social welfare net continues to get depleted.

One can assume that Kahlon was upset to see the new chairman of Kadima, Shaul Mofaz, handing out food to the needy, because that makes him a political rival on the social welfare front. Whatever the cause for his disparaging comments about charities, Kahlon was right on target and is expressing a position it is appropriate for the government to take. Now all he needs to do is prove that he is capable of setting policy that reflects his position.



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