Disabled Activists in Israel Block Major Highways in Protest of Stagnant Disability Allowances

Disability allowances have remained unchanged for about 15 years at $667 a month. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed only a minor increase, which would take effect in January

Disabled activists block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, September 24, 2017.
Moti Milrod

People with disabilities blocked major highways in central Israel for several hours on Sunday, in an ongoing protest of the state’s refusal to raise disability allowances to the level of the minimum wage.

The activists announced that the number and the duration of the roadblocks will increase over the course of the week.

But police said that if the actions continue, they will begin to issue fines to participants. The Israel Police said they consider this a necessary measure, citing what they called the intolerable disruption to daily life posed by the daily, rolling roadblocks and their failure to persuade the activists to stop blocking critical traffic arteries.

Disability allowances have remained unchanged for about 15 years at 2,342 shekels ($667) a month. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed only a minor increase, which would take effect in January.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz and numerous Knesset members have said they support a much greater increase, to at least 4,000 shekels a month. Disabled rights activists want the allowances linked to the minimum wage, currently 5,000 shekels a month.

On Sunday morning, disabled activists blocked the southbound lanes of the Ayalon Freeway, Tel Aviv’s main artery, at the KKL interchange for about two and a half hours.

They later blocked access to the highway’s southbound lanes from the Glilot and Shivat Hakohhavim interchanges. They then moved on to blocking access to the highway in both directions from the Hashalom interchange.

These successive roadblocks caused major traffic jams on the Ayalon and many feeder roads as well.

On Sunday evening, the demonstrators blocked Ra’anana Junction in all directions, and traffic resumed flowing normally only about an hour later. Shortly before that, they blocked the northbound lanes of the Coastal Highway at Yakum Junction, stopping traffic for around an hour.

Alex Friedman, the main organizer of the demonstrations and the head of an advocacy organization for the disabled called Nakheh Lo Hetzi Ben Adam, claimed that 250,000 people with disabilities went gone hungry over last week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday.

“The battle over our basic right to live in dignity will continue and intensify unless the government changes its attitude toward the disabled,” Friedman said. “We’re human beings; the time has come to stop the abuse.”

On Sunday, Friedman and other members of his organization met with Katz, the social affairs minister, to coordinate their positions. It was the first time Katz met officially with representatives of the organization. During the meeting, Katz said several times that he supports the demand to raise disability allowances to the level of the minimum wage.

Netanyahu’s proposal, which was announced in August and is based on the work of a public committee that studied the issue, would leave allowances completely unchanged for roughly 100,000 people, or 45 percent of all those who receive disability allowances. This group includes everyone who receives a supplement to the basic disability allowance, such as additional payments on behalf of a spouse or a child.

An additional 50,000 individuals with a disability of 90 percent or above would see their monthly allowances rise to 4,000 shekels in January 2018. The remaining 80,000 would receive a smaller increase that month, to 3,200 shekels.

The increases proposed by Netanyahu are much smaller than those proposed by Prof. Yaron Zelekha, who studied the issue on behalf of Kahlon, as well as those proposed by both coalition and opposition parties in the Knesset, which announced support for raising the monthly allowances to 4,000 shekels at a press conference organized by coalition whip MK David Bitan.

Netanyahu has promised to submit legislation to implement his plan as soon as the Knesset returns from its summer recess, in mid-October. But so far, nothing has happened, and he has also refused to meet with any of the activists.

Earlier this month, Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn announced that he also supports a much higher increase than Netanyahu has proposed, and he offered to mediate between the disabled activists and the government.

Organizations representing people with disabilities have also petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand an increase in the allowances.

Last month, the government urged the court to reject their petition, arguing that not only does the court have no right to intervene in this issue, but the government is still trying to find money to cover even the limited increases Netanyahu has promised. This statement seems to contradict Kahlon’s repeated promises in the past several months to raise the allowances swiftly by four billion shekels in total.

Last week, the Knesset held a special recess session on the allowances, which was attended by about 40 MKs, or one third of the Knesset. Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who addressed the session on behalf of the government, also promised a four billion shekel increase, but over four years rather than all at once.