The Government Has no Heart
The social protest against the government's new policies is
widening. The leaders of the protest are working single
parents who need government help to make ends meet. A non-
working single mother with two or more children has been cut
from NIS 3,346 to NIS 2,607 a month. A working mother who
makes the minimum wage has been cut from NIS 2,592 to NIS
1,232. It makes the difference between a low, but tolerable,
standard of living and a life of unfilled needs.
There are already some 50 women in tents opposite the
Knesset. There are reports that many more are on the way,
from Ofakim, from Upper Nazareth, from Sderot, from Hatzor,
from Eilat and from Beer Sheva. They are converging on
Jerusalem, because many of them feel that they have no place
else to go.
The government says that its main thrust is to change the
"welfare ethic" that makes people prefer taking handouts and
doing nothing to going to work. This is a goal that has been
pursued on many fronts. There has been a major revamping of
the tax system, for one thing. For the first time, capital is
taxed. This should reduce some of the burden on labor and
make it more attractive to work.
However, in its zeal to reach its goals, which are basically
shared by most of Israeli society, the government has been
too quick to throw out its social safety net that support
large sectors of the population. Families headed by single
mothers with children make up more than 10 percent of all the
families in Israel, and they have been thrown out onto the
The economic cuts were passed with little opposition. Most of
the warnings were raised by chareidim, and their voice is
being pointedly ignored by the current government that very
noisily includes the adamantly anti-chareidi Shinui party.
The louder the chareidim protested, the happier Shinui
It is a shame. In fact, though they do not make it a
signature issue, the chareidim have been the champions of all
the economically weak sectors of the population. It was their
presence in the government that always ensured that no
drastic steps were taken against those who cannot tolerate
them, and their absence allowed the passage of a series of
budget cuts that may make technical economic sense, but are
nonetheless impossible for a real Jewish heart. Without the
chareidi representatives to provide a conscience for the
government, the Treasury technocrats made their move without
sufficient concern about the human consequences.
It is not enough to say that it is better for everyone to
work than be on the dole. Jobs have to be available. There
are now at least 300,000 foreigners in Israel who are working
under conditions that no Israeli is willing to accept. There
is already high unemployment. Unless and until the economy
beings to pick up steam, there is little prospect of those on
welfare finding jobs. What should they do until then?
The basic economic policy principles are not something that
anyone these days can disagree with. They are the consensus
of all the experts virtually throughout the world, since
America has come to dominate these fields. Yet they still
must be applied in a Jewish way that is sensitive to the
needs and situation of the poor and downtrodden.
There is one point of disagreement over ideology. We see
those involved in learning Torah as being gainfully employed.
They work very hard and are very busy. We see their work as a
service to the entire society, certainly no less than many
other services such as liberal arts professors, political
pundits, art critics and artists themselves. They never got
very much in direct support from the Israeli government. (The
only direct support for Torah learners was about $160 a
month.) In any case their numbers are small. But they are not
part of the problem of poverty in the Jewish state. They are
part of the solution. Everyone should learn Torah.
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