The Campaign to Perpetuate Poverty

The government is now completing a three-stage process of privatizing society and leaving it to its own devices.

Thirty-two year-old G. and her husband N., 34, live in a modest neighborhood in Holon. She is a first-grade teacher, he is a self-employed electrician. They have two children, a 4-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter.

According to the National Insurance Institute, they are not poor. But a simple calculation leaves one wondering how they manage to get by.

Their monthly income is about NIS 8,000. After deducting rent (NIS 2,800), nursery school for the boy and day care for the baby (NIS 2,500), electricity, telephone, water, municipal taxes and other regular bills (NIS 1,000), that leaves them with NIS 1,700 for food, clothing, shoes, after-school activities for their son, books, household needs, medicine and everything else.

They have no car, and for the last two years, they have not gone on vacation, even within Israel. Going abroad? In their dreams. They last went to a movie over the summer. They have given up on buying an apartment.

Neither has wealthy parents. The economic crisis that, according to our leaders, passed us by has affected their extended family: G.'s mother helps out with the children, and N.'s retired parents periodically buy food for them, but they also have two married daughters.

In this situation, one small reversal - a family member falling ill, a parent who needs nursing care, a child with special needs, expensive medical tests, even dental work - is enough to send them below the line that they are striving to remain above.

Earlier this year, G. needed a particular gynecological test. In May, she made an appointment with a specialist for August, and the specialist then scheduled her test for December. If it's urgent, the nurse told her, do it privately. But doing the test privately would cost the equivalent of their monthly income.

Even so, G. and N. would have been able to lead a reasonable life on their current income, to plan a better future for themselves and their children and even realize their dream of furthering their education and thereby bolster their professional and economic status - if Israel had subsidized housing, free day care for working parents, truly free education that required no extra payments, free and readily available preventive medical care and subsidized nursing care for the elderly.

Were that the case, their income would have fulfilled the free-market enthusiasts' fondest dreams: It would have turned into disposable income that would set off ripples of consumption, develop the family and enrich society.

But it seems Israel's government is not interested in their ability to contribute; it prefers to keep them in a permanent state of uncertainty about their ability to eke out a life as well as their future. This gloomy conclusion is unavoidable in light of Sunday's publication of the NII's poverty report for 2008, and even more so in light of the solution the government has come up with for the poverty problem: investing additional hundreds of millions of shekels in nonprofit organizations that hand out food to the needy.

In the coming months alone, the government will invest NIS 50 million in these organizations for use in "developing infrastructure that will enable them to raise funds." In other words, it will beef up hundreds of private organizations headed by highly-paid executives. And that is only the beginning.

The government is now completing a three-stage process of privatizing society and leaving it to its own devices. The first stage was abandoning responsibility for its citizens by turning their social rights into private needs that must be paid for and thus forcing them into poverty. The second was reliance on charities in order to justify and entrench this abandonment of responsibility.

And now we have reached the third stage, in which the state no longer exists when it comes to obligations to its citizens, but still reaches into their pockets to collect taxes, which it then distributes to food-aid charities that perpetuate poverty. Instead of investing this money in a social security system that would enable G. and N. to live with dignity, it is telling them explicitly: Conceal your income, or else don't work.

What is important is that you be truly miserable - and then you will be able to get assistance from the poverty contractors, who are supported by donations from those who have gotten rich off our warped economic system and funding from the taxpayer.

But don't we need the nonprofits? Should we let the hungry starve? No. Rather, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog needs to abandon his new role as minister of charity and return to the principles of the welfare state. He and the government, which he and his dying party are propping up, must ensure that the children of G. and N., who can and deserve to be good, self-sufficient citizens, do not find themselves forced to stand in line at a soup kitchen instead.