Welfare Groups, Legislators Blast Israeli Finance Minister's Decision to Freeze Aid to Non-profits

Attorney general is asked to intervene after Minister Yisrael Katz holds up package so as not to help asylum seekers

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Yisrael Katz gives a press briefing on July 1, 2020.
Yisrael Katz gives a press briefing on July 1, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Twenty-one MKs from the Joint List, Meretz, Labor and Yesh Atid wrote a letter Sunday to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, calling on him to ensure that all nonprofits suffering financially from the coronavirus crisis get government assistance.

The letter followed a Haaretz report that Finance Minister Yisrael Katz had ordered a government aid package to nonprofit associations held up so that aid should not go to groups assisting asylum seekers. Similarly, some 60 social welfare groups wrote to Katz and to Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli, asking them to “Rise above narrow political considerations and lend a hand to any needy person, whether he’s a citizen or a migrant.”

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Katz, who had already approved the plan along with professionals from the Social Affairs Ministry, the treasury, and the Prime Minister’s Office, retracted his approval after the plan was criticized by south Tel Aviv activist Sheffi Paz and Yair Netanyahu, son of the prime minister, and after receiving dozens of messages from activists seeking the deportation of asylum seekers. The 53 million-shekel ($15.4 million) aid plan was aimed at nonprofits that help the needy, homeless, Holocaust survivors, sexual assault victims and other groups that until now had not received any government aid.

The letter, which was initiated by MK Ofer Cassif (Joint List), says that excluding the nonprofits that assist asylum seekers from receiving government aid, “would undermine the right to equality and would constitute forbidden discrimination in several ways. First the anti-discrimination law does not distinguish between providing services to citizens and those who are not citizens and explicitly forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, religious group, nationality or country of origin.”

It continues, “Denying government support from these nonprofit associations that are suffering financially could lead to their closure and create illogical pressure on the other nonprofits in civil society. Third, these are the most economically vulnerable populations, primarily because during the coronavirus crisis many restaurants and other businesses have closed, leaving the population of asylum seekers without work.”

The letter noted that denying these organizations aid would make the situation in south Tel Aviv even worse. “In any case, the minister and the Finance Ministry do not have the right to make a rule or issue an order that undermines protected basic rights. Therefore, we are asking you to intervene and make it clear to Minister Katz that his steps against the asylum seekers do not square with cabinet understandings, High Court of Justice rulings and the Anti-Discrimination Law.”

Said Cassif, “Katz so hates African asylum seekers that he’s prepared to harm Holocaust survivors and sexual assault victims just to make it worse for them. Unfortunately for Katz, such a racist move is still not legal in this country and must be voided.”

MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) sent their own letters to Mendelblit. “The effort to block support for organizations that help refugees and asylum seekers is discriminatory and based on racist criteria. Recent reports raise suspicion that these are the considerations on which the finance minister’s decision is based,” Zandberg wrote in her letter. In her missive, Elharrar wrote, “With this decision the finance minister is causing an absurd situation in which nonprofits, which supply what the government cannot supply, will not get budget increases they are entitled to and will not be able to continue their important work on behalf of Israeli society’s needy populations.”

Sixty social welfare organizations, among those that help asylum seekers, also sent a letter Sunday to the finance and social affairs ministers asking them to reverse the decision. “We think it outrageous that the finance minister chooses to delay funds destined to support hundreds of thousands of people – not just asylum seekers but Holocaust survivors, women who are victims of violence, the elderly, homeless, new immigrants and children at risk. At this difficult time, at the height of a health, financial and social crisis never before seen in Israel, we are urging the finance minister to reverse his divisive decision, which distinguishes between people and denies the weakest populations the help they need.

“Thousands of people who until now were barely supporting their families are joining the ranks of the needy as a result of the economic crisis. We, organizations and associations in civil society, who help various populations who have been hurt by the crisis, urge the government not to abandon us and the populations that we help day and night to prevent the humanitarian and social crisis that has been cause by the coronavirus crisis.”

The organizations that signed the letter included, Women Lawyers for Social Justice, Elifelet – For Refugee Children; Ani Isha – Women Taking Power in Israel; Assaf – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel; Bina – the Jewish Movement for Social Change; Hotline for Refugees and Migrants; Hillel – the Right to Choose; the Reform Center for Religion and State; the African Refugee Development Center – Israel; Zazim – Active Communities; Be Free Israel; the Adva Center, the Sikkuy association, Physicians for Human Rights, and others.

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