“After the holidays” can summarize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the protests by the disabled, which has been going on for two months now. “The prime minister said he will formulate, together with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, additional measures of relief that will be presented for discussion and legislation right after the holidays,” according to a statement issued Sunday in Netanyahu’s name. The prime minister did not say what additional measures of relief he is planning.
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Netanyahu’s promise is a weak response to the protest, which has engendered empathy but has not been able to break down the public wall of indifference. The disabled are protesting the government’s refusal to raise their monthly benefit payment, now 2,342 shekels ($655), to the minimum wage (5,000 shekels a month) and link it to the minimum wage’s future increases. “We are not the Israel Electric Corporation that has a switch, or the Histadrut labor federation, and so our struggle is on the roads,” said Naomi Moravia, chairwoman of the protest campaign.
Meanwhile, the determined campaign of the disabled has managed to produce only committees and recommendations. Netanyahu, as usual, appoints committee after committee, which only rejects or “updates” the conclusions of its predecessor, and mainly buys him more time. That’s what he did when he tasked Avi Simhon, chairman of the National Economic Council, with re-examining benefits to the disabled, a few months after a committee headed by Prof. Yaron Zelekha – who was appointed by Kahlon – published its recommendations, which Kahlon accepted.
The Zelekha Committee recommended raising disability benefits to 4,000 shekels a month. In contrast, the Simhon plan, whose principles Netanyahu cited on Sunday, also recommended raising disability benefits, but differentially: Only the most severely disabled (90 percent at least) would receive 4,000 shekels a month. The others would receive benefits based on the percentage of their disability.
The Netanyahu government presents itself as nationalistic and socially-minded. There are ministers serving in it who define themselves as socially-minded leaders, fighting for the rights of the “invisible” and strengthening the outlying areas at the expense of the “elites.” On more than one occasion the government has justified its policy based on the idea that “your own needy come first.” Now, when the government is required to translate its declared concern for the poor into a redistribution of the budget, it evades the task.
Even a major addition is not enough to meet the demands of the disabled. For that, a government is needed that will change priorities from the ground up. The current government, instead of letting all disabled people live a dignified life, without having to block highways to be heard, prefers to transfer huge budgets to the settlements and inflate the defense budget. The disabled, who will have to wait until “after the holidays,” are the direct victims of this folly.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.