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SOCIAL JUSTICE PROTESTS IN ISRAEL: AN OVERVIEW

Israel is going through the largest social-welfare protests the state has yet experienced. In fact, it’s almost as if Israelis have adopted yet an American custom by stating “It’s the economy, stupid!” as they focus their attention on socio-economic subjects. The current intense debates involve three major issues: the cost of housing, doctors’ low salaries and, remarkably, the price of cottage cheese.

Housing prices in Israel have risen to such an extent that people are finding it almost impossible to continue living in the same lifestyle bracket as before. Protests against the prohibitive costs of renting are flooding the country and monopolizing the news. Protester tent cities have sprung up in almost every town and city across the country. Tens of thousands of activists are making their voices heard, and the government is listening.

The Jewish Federations of North America views the growing social gaps in Israel with concern. While acknowledging the many positive steps taken by the Israeli government to relieve poverty, encourage economic development and improve social equality, it is clear that much more needs to be done.

 

According to a Bank of Israel study, home prices escalated 35 percent between December 2007 and August 2010. In addition, interest on 20-year loans has risen to 3.66 percent from 0.11 percent.
 
Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel, warns that housing prices could double in the next five years. Yet, the 2010 Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report declares that, as of 2010, there are 10,153 millionaires in Israel.
 
It’s not easy to make sense of all this until one understands that the gap between incomes is greater in Israel than in any of the 27 European Union countries, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics said in this month's report. In 2004, Israel was second only to Taiwan among industrialized countries, with a vast income inequity that is double that of America's.
 
Since the 1990s, the number of people below the poverty line in Israel has grown. Now, Israel (along with Mexico) has the highest number of those suffering from child poverty of all member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Despite an average of 4 percent less participation in the workforce than other developed countries (the lowest labor participation rate in the Western world, according to the Finance Ministry), "40 percent of the poor are working poor" notes Miri Endeweld of the National Insurance Institute, and "60 percent of these people have full-time jobs. You can work full time and still be poor."

 

We support and applaud the multitude of projects and programs run by so many organizations - particularly our historic partners the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Joint Distribution Committee -  that operate in this field and bring relief, development and hope to so many, on a daily basis.

 

These agencies are achieving great results and bringing real hope to many of the more disadvantaged segments of Israeli society. We, at Jewish Federations, are very proud of these achievements and partnerships.

 

JFNA's support goes to those who raise their voice in the public forum for the good of Israeli society, whether protest tent-dweller or member of Knesset. It is imperative that action be taken for the good of the national community, in an inclusive, serious and far-sighted manner. 

 

We therefore urge the Israeli government and the protesters to continue their dialogue and reach agreements that can produce a more just, fair and prosperous society in Israel.