Israel’s Needy to Receive Gift Cards Instead of Food Packages for Passover

Social Affairs Minister announces the procedures a day after criticizing non-profit organizations for handing out food publicly, humiliating food recipients.

Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon announced on Tuesday that non-profit groups providing food assistance to the poor and seeking ministry funding would have to declare that they do not humiliate recipients. He also said the groups would have to provide aid recipients with a magnetic card they could use at ordinary food shops, rather than hand out food themselves.

Kahlon announced he was instituting the procedures a day after he criticized non-profit organizations that hand out food publicly for humiliating food recipients, and for the high salaries their directors receive.

Volunteers fill boxes of food at an Israeli food pantry.
Nir Kafri

Speaking at a press conference, Kahlon announced that 32,000 needy families would receive magnetic cards to purchase food for the holiday, at a cost of NIS 12.3 million. "The method of handing out packages of food must disappear. I oppose photographing the needy when they come to collect a basket of food. The Social Affairs Ministry is promoting magnetic cards as a means of distributing food aid," he said.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which distributes aid to the needy and is partnering with the Social Affairs Ministry in funding the cards, said at the press conference: "We moved over two years ago to the voucher system to distribute food because it's important to us that aid be distributed anonymously and in a respectful manner. However, we say that human dignity ... also means showing true concern all year round. Benefits in Israel and salaries barely cover a family's essentials, with prices rising all the time. Over the years the state has not done enough to allow the poor to live dignified lives," he added.

Eran Weintrob, the executive director of the major non-profit group Latet, which does not receive government aid, said "Kahlon is cut off from reality. Most of the aid groups are well organized and conduct themselves according to all rules of proper administration and give great respect to the needy, whom they have cared for very devotedly for many years."

Weintrob added that instead of thanking the non-profits and civil society, "which represent 15 percent of the GDP, for its extensive work for the past two decades, Kahlon has chosen, strangely, to delegitimize all those who give of themselves out of a sense of mission to others, and pass up a capitalist career in the business world."

Weintrob said the message to the younger generation in Kahlon's statements was that they should "take care of number 1, have an individualist career in high-tech and the business world. Thee more you succeed the more you'll have, and society will appreciate you more. Don't go into third-sector work, because you'll earn less and work harder, and your work will not have legitimacy."