Israel Spends 70% More on At-risk Jewish Girls Than Their Arab Counterparts

Over half of the money is spent on boarding schools, which is seen as an inappropriate solution for most Arabs.

A religious boarding school in Bneir Brak for at-risk girls.
Alon Ron

The Social Affairs Ministry spends 70 percent more on supporting at-risk Jewish females than their Arab counterparts, according to data obtained by Haaretz.

The ministry spends an average of 76,551 shekels ($20,360) on a Jewish girl or woman defined as at risk, compared to only 44,954 shekels for an young Arab girl or woman.

This is official ministry data, given to the Knesset Research and Information Center in order to prepare a report on the matter, whose main conclusions are being published here for the first time.

The report was written at the request of the chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu), and the chairwoman of the Committee on the Status of Women, MK Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List). They will hold a joint session of the two committees Monday to discuss the report’s findings.

In 2015, some 4,500 young Arab women and girls received help from the Social Affairs Ministry. The number of young Jewish girls and women receiving help was 11,375 – 2.6 times more than the number of young Arabs. Yet the total budget for treating the Jewish females was about 900 million shekels, 4.5 times the 200 million shekels budgeted for Arab girls and young women.

The report does not provide any explanation for this difference, and Social Affairs Ministry representatives will now have to explain the reasoning behind the numbers.

The ministry defines at-risk young females as those ranging in age from 12 to 25, who are single with behavior characterized by self-destructive tendencies. They are also in a deteriorating state, or at risk of such deterioration, and have experienced traumatic incidents. It treats these at-risk girls and women through a number of units in the ministry, and no single entity manages the response with an overall view of the situation.

Most of the money spent, 59 percent, is for boarding schools – a method of treatment that senior ministry officials admit is less appropriate for young Arab women. Indeed, only about 9 percent of the at-risk Arabs (some 400 girls) use it. This requires the removal of the girls from their homes, and the report states that this is less acceptable in Arab society.

The Arab community tends not to send young women out of the home for help and treatment, and other facilities need to be made available in these cases, says Dalia Lev Sadeh, the ministry’s head of services for children and youth.

Tali Yogev, who is responsible for youth protection services in the ministry (with hostels a part of this), agrees that in Arab society, taking a young woman from her home is postponed until the time when the level of risk is very high. Only two boarding schools for Arab girls currently exist.

The reason for such high expenditure on solutions that are appropriate for only a small percentage of the young women is the high cost of a boarding school compared to treatment within the community.

The most common solution provided to young, at-risk Arab women is the “Bayit Ham” (Warm Home) project, which receives only 17 percent of the budget. Here, the young women receive help within their communities, usually three to five times a week in the afternoon. Some 32 percent of the young at-risk women attend such programs.

Shasha-Biton says she decided to study the matter after participating in a visit to one such program in an Arab community, where she discovered a specific problem: In her conversations with the girls and staff, she learned of the need to provide bespoke solutions for young at-risk Arab women, because what may be appropriate for young Jewish women is far from appropriate for Arab girls, she said.

This is the beginning of the process to find a solution, she said, calling on the Social Affairs Ministry to formulate appropriate plans and budgets to do so.

The report also found that the social services departments of Arab municipalities are unprepared to deal with these problems.

The research also examined the Health Ministry’s handling of the issue, and found that the health system has no specific programs for young at-risk women from the Arab community. Indeed, it had almost no specific services for treating the victims of family violence and sexual assault, except for centers in hospitals for treating acute cases of sexual assault, and mobile units that provide services to reduce the harm of prostitution.