Disabled Israelis Protest Meager Increase in Benefits, Block Road to Airport

Israelis living with disabilities demand that benefits be raised to minimum wage, but the government objects

Dozens of disabled Israelis block the Highway 1, the road from Tel Aviv to the Airport, June 21, 2017.
Israel Police spokesperson

Dozens of disabled Israelis blocked the road from Tel Aviv to Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday to protest a plan to grant them a much lower increase in disability benefits than previously promised. The protesters are seeking benefits equal to the minimum wage.

Some of the protesters chained themselves, doused themselves with gas and threatened to set themselves on fire. The police said one protester holding a lighter punched a policeman who tried to pull the lighter from his hand.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon had promised to significantly raise disability benefits. But under a compromise now being arranged by coalition whip David Bitan, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz and Netanyahu, the maximum monthly benefit will be raised from 2,340 to 4,000 shekels ($661 to $1,130). The minimum wage is 5,000 shekels ($1,412).

“This is a bad plan that will maintain the gap between the disability benefit and the minimum wage for many years to come,” said Neomi Moravia, one of the protest leaders.

“Potentially, there are fewer than 5,000 disabled people with any chance of finding employment. Most disabled people don’t even have a matriculation certificate; 20 percent of them were born disabled and haven’t turned 21 years old yet,” Moravia said.

Those leading the fight for the increase charge that keeping disability allowances well below minimum wage dooms handicapped people to debilitating poverty.

A Netanyahu-appointed panel, headed by Prof. Avi Simhon, chairman of the National Economic Council, recommended an increase to 3,200 shekels a month, while a previous committee, headed by Prof. Yaron Zelekha, suggested an increase to 4,000 shekels a month.

Last week some 200 disabled people demonstrated in the center of Tel Aviv, voicing the same demand for the minimum wage.