Friday, December 11, 2015

Israel's Poor: 'Bailing them out'? or 'Getting them out'?

Guest Contribution by Simon Cadranel

Kupat Ha'ir - one of the primary charities serving the Charedi poor in Israel

A few days ago, I commented on the poverty statistics of the Charedi world in Israel. I suggested that a recent ban by Charedi rabbis in Israel on women obtaining academic degrees just exacerbated the problem. But as a Centrist living here in Chicago, I am an outsider. (Albeit – hopefully - a somewhat informed one.)

I received a communication form a prominent Charedi in America which I published here yesterday.

At just about the same time I received a communication from a religious Jew living in Israel. Israelis have a much bigger dog in this hunt. They are directly affected by a poverty statistic that puts a huge strain on the economy. I thought it would be helpful to see what an Insider thinks. The following was written by Simon Cadranel, an Orthodox Israeli resident. (A short bio follows his words)

The National Insurance Institute (Israel's Social Security) published it's annual Poverty Report today. In most years the report is a dry (if disturbing) depiction of the data on Israel's poor.  This year, however it did something different.  It proposed a policy. 

The data is still disturbing.  18.8% of Israeli families are poor. In fact relative to other OECD countries Israel has a shockingly high level of poverty, but these two slides (below) are all you need to see to understand Israel's relative poverty.

Israel has a high degree of poverty because we have such large numbers of two parent families where only one parent works.

The incidence of poverty among families with two working parents is only 5.6%.  The incidence of poverty amongst the two major groups in Israel that by and large only have one working parent out of two (Haredim and Arabs) is 52%.  That is 10 times higher!!

Not working makes you poor. Nobody is surprised by that, right?

But here's the thing:  The National Insurance Institute suggested that the correct thing to do is to increase welfare payments. This will reduce the number of families in the 'poor' category by increasing their available income.  But it's not going to get them out of poverty. It just bails them out for now.

Why would they suggest such a thing?  To secure their own budget and future?  To keep the current government ministers happy?  It's hard to avoid drawing that conclusion.  The NII is proposing a solution that will keep people poor. Why?  Because it wants to give money to those who don't work. 

But clearly there is more that needs to be done. We need to honestly turn around to the groups whose members do not work and say "I'm sorry, but it doesn't work that way.  You can't stay home and not be poor.  It imposes financial hardships on those who do work and it is deeply problematic for your own well-being and the well-being of your own children. You need to start going to work. Being poor is nothing to be proud of."

There's a political story going on behind this. 

When people think about Israeli politics they tend to think only about what goes on at the borders - the security situation.  That is a shame.  It is also wrong.  What goes on inside the country matters just as much if not more.

The point I am trying to make is that the politics are an integral part of the problem of poverty. As long as political parties keep the level of handouts high and refuse to change the rules of the game so that welfare benefits are paid only to those who need AND DESERVE them (i.e. by doing the best they can and getting a job) and ensuring that benefits are NOT PAID to those who choose not to work, then Israel will continue to have a poverty problem and children will continue to be poor. 

We cannot allow our political parties to ignore (or make worse) the problem of poverty any more. 

It's clear that the lack of working parents is the core of Israel's poverty issue.  It has to be addressed and no-one is addressing it This is a fight that needs fighting because of the last statistic of the day is also the most horrifying...

776,000 children in this country are poor.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said 'Judaism refused to romanticize poverty or anaesthetize its pain. Faith is not what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.” The rabbis refused to see poverty as a blessed state, an affliction to be born with acceptance and grace. Instead, the rabbis called it “a kind of death” and “worse than fifty plagues".... Aid can also create welfare dependency, reinforcing, not breaking the cycle of deprivation.

The greatest act of tzedakah is therefore one that allows the individual to become self-sufficient. The highest form of aid is one that enables the individual to dispense with aid. Humanitarian relief is essential on the short term, but in the long run, job creation and the promotion of employment are more important."

Both parents working
Poverty by group
Simon Cadranel has worked at the Israel Free Loan Association (IFLA) for the last three years - an organization that helps Israel's working poor - dojng microfinance loans to small businesses.   Prior to that he worked in banking in Israel and in the States. This post is a personal comment and does not reflect IFLA's official position.