Israel Set to Become OECD's Poorest Member

Report: Israel has lower salaries, wider social gaps than any country in group; membership vote set for May.

If the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development accepts Israel in its vote this May, it will be its poorest member with the widest social gaps, a report by the organization shows. The OECD's chairman, Jose Angel Gurria, submitted the report to the Israeli government Tuesday.

The vote will follow two years of official talks on Israel's joining the group, and even more years of promises. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman visited Paris a few months ago to present the OECD with Israel's social and economic policies aimed at reducing inequality.

Although the report's conclusions are nothing new for many Israelis, the country is still at the bottom of the rankings. Every fifth Israeli is twice as poor as the average person in OECD member states. Most of the poor come from Arab and ultra-orthodox communities, where poverty rises to 50 percent and 60 percent, respectively. More than half of Israelis are paid less than NIS 4,000 a month, while only a very few make many times as much.

Nevertheless, Gurria promised that Israel would become a member this year. Some issues need to be resolved together, but they can be solved, he said.

Minister Herzog said Israel's main weakness in applying for the organization was poverty, citing a 20 percent gap with the OECD. He said Israeli membership in the organization would help reduce poverty in the country.

However, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) called on Gurria yesterday not to allow Israel to join the OECD unless it institutes equality for Arab citizens.

According to Ben-Eliezer, "Implementing the recommendations of the OECD regarding employment will gradually but significantly increase government spending."

On the bright side, increasing the civilian workforce would diminish poverty and inequality in Israel, said Ben-Eliezer, adding that his ministry was acting to implement the OECD recommendations.