Skinheads Dictating Social Policy

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Finance Minister Yisrael Katz arrives for a press briefing in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020.
Finance Minister Yisrael Katz arrives for a press briefing in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

If fear is a bad adviser, then the fear of one’s electoral base is an evil one. There’s no other way to describe the decision by Finance Minister Yisrael Katz to delay the approval of a plan to give government aid to nonprofit groups that help the needy, the homeless, Holocaust survivors, sexual assault victims and other groups, just to prevent funds going to help asylum seekers.

The plan to give help to these organizations was first publicized last Tuesday. The social affairs and finance ministries announced that the money would be distributed to nonprofit organizations and associations that aren’t entitled to support from the fund that assists businesses, but which have been seriously impaired by the coronavirus crisis. The plan is meant to assist some 1,600 nonprofits, including several organizations that provide community, educational and social welfare support to asylum seekers.

This was not a plan drawn up behind Katz’s back or as an afterthought. The criteria for distribution of the funds were devised by the treasury, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office over a two-month period. This is elementary humanitarian aid, aimed at populations that are off the government’s assistance radar, during a pandemic which, as we know, doesn’t distinguish between types of people, and at the height of a second wave that broke out due to Israel’s failed attempts to cut the chains of infection. So what led Katz to put such a vital plan on hold in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis?

A more accurate question would be not what caused Katz to act, but who. And the answer is Sheffi Paz and Yair Netanyahu. The idea that government money would help foreigners at the bottom of the food chain brought the Israeli skinheads out of their holes. Yair Netanyahu tweeted another one of his hateful missives, and the anti-asylum-seeker activist Sheffi Paz crafted a typical xenophobic message, seeking to make it clear to the minister that “his base doesn’t accept this.”

Katz heard the base and hastened to obey. He wrote to his ministry’s legal adviser, Asi Messing, that the approval of the plan should be held up. “There is a concern that some of the associations … conduct activity that goes against the values and policies of the government,” Katz wrote. It follows, then, that the updated values of the State of Israel are abandonment of the weak and abuse of the needy. That’s what happens when you let Paz and Yair Netanyahu determine the state’s values.

This aid fund is as important to the groups providing welfare assistance to the neediest populations as oxygen is to breathing. Katz must not use the lives of thousands as human shields in a battle with Likud’s supporters. He must immediately retract his instructions to hold back the assistance, and if he doesn’t, then Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must overturn his decision.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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