Ngo comments on the Initial Israeli State Report on Implementing the un convention on the Rights of the Child

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Growing social gaps

The Adva Center, a research center studying equality and social justice in Israel, concluded that the short period of growth in the first half of the 1990’s, “did not benefit all Israelis.”12

Those in the highest income quintile gained the most, increasing their share of the pie, while the share of most other Israelis declined. At the same time that a thin stratum of Israelis received large salary increases, the number of Israelis whose wages placed them at or below the poverty line grew.”
They concluded that:

The past two decades have seen a change in the economic and social policies of Israel. While in the 1970s and early 1980s, the State was still perceived as the locomotive of economic and social development, this perception has since been superseded by an ideology whose main precept is that the State ought to turn its helm over to the private sector. This ideology is behind the budget cuts of recent years: it threatens the capability of the education, health, housing and social insurance systems to provide high-quality, equitable services to all citizens of Israel.”13

In a time when more and more children are living under the poverty line, it is incredible that some municipalities pay their top civil servants astronomical salaries. The salary of the Director of Education of the Education Department of the Jerusalem Municipality is unethically high. The Adva Center notes:
The ideology of downsizing the state took hold after the economic stabilization program of 1985. The budget cuts are already having an adverse effect on the main public services in Israel: the school system, the health system, government housing assistance and social security payments. If the military budget were to shrink to the Western European Level-say around 7%, as in Holland – the state budget of Israel would be 40-41% of the GDP, a proportion similar to that of most of the countries of Western Europe.”14
The Adva Center revealed in a recent study that support per capita per settler is higher than that of those who live in other developing towns in Israel proper. Support for them is higher than for any other group, not including subsidized housing.
US Ambassador, Dan Kurtzer15 raised the issue that money spent on settlements in the West Bank and Gaza contributes to the budget problems (causing problems in paying decent benefits to the country’s handicapped). Ambassador Kurtzer pointed out that these people do not have to compete with other priorities (such as more money to people with disabilities). He believes that over the last decade there has been little discussion about allocation of money for settlers, from whom support has never been withheld.
The ultra-orthodox Sephardi education system, aimed at people who often live in poor neighborhoods and development towns, has to be seen against the background of the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The ultra-orthodox education system provides long school days, hot meals, and greater per pupil teaching hours.16 A similar development is taking place in the Arab-Israeli population,17 where the Islamic fundamentalists provide an inexpensive and attractive alternative, although they aren’t subsidized by the State of Israel as the Jewish ultra-orthodox schools are.
Ninety percent of the Israeli budget is fixed (defense, which will again go up, redemption of debts, and expenses fixed by statute such as welfare payments).18 Only ten percent of the budget is, to a degree, flexible.
A problem with budget issues in the Government Report is that there are no calculations of the total portion of the State Budget spent on children because these allocations are divided among several ministries. But to a certain extent we can derive which funds go to child-related causes from an analysis of the social services budget, i.e. education, health, social welfare, and personal social services.19 Although this budget has increased both empirically and relatively in most sectors, it has not necessarily brought about an improvement in quality of life for children in Israel for three main reasons: 1) In the first half of the 1990’s, Israel absorbed 163,000 child immigrants.20 Of a total population of 5.5 million, such a number is certainly consequential; 2) The relatively large increase in the Social Services budget served to compensate for its very low proportion in previous years; 3) The number of children increased during these years, so that an increase in spending does not ensure that more was spent per child.

The need for equal allocations

In the last decade, the social welfare budget increased by 100%, (currently at NIS 35 billion). The personal social services budget, which includes payments for child allowances, has almost tripled during these years to NIS 4.1 billion. But an actual increase in spending on social causes is not enough; they also must be used wisely if they are to influence children’s well being. Since the ratification of the Convention, this has not always been the case in Israel.

In 1994-96, the education budget increased significantly, but most of the increase was designated to upgrade teachers’ salaries, with no demonstrated effect on children themselves. In 1996, a new National Health Insurance Law was passed, which cut back on government involvement in health insurance by NIS14 billion and increased the public’s share in funding health services. As part of the recent privatization trend in Israel, this law enlarged the gap between services available to the rich and the poor by strengthening the link between individual financial resources and quality of health services. (It must be noted, however, that the National Health Insurance Law also provided for the insurance of all children in Israel – a drastic improvement over the previous system. This will be discussed in the section on Health and Welfare.)
Swirski et al. claim that during the late 1990’s, while Israel was undergoing privatization, the budget cuts have had adverse effects on the main public services in Israel. In 2001, the Israeli economy took its most drastic downturn since the 1960’s, plunging the State into severe recession. In planning the budget for 2002, the Knesset has had to make further cuts in its expenditures, often at the expense of children. Cuts in social spending during a time of sharp recession may have been easier to understand had the Knesset not increased its own budget just a month before announcing draconian funding cuts. Also, the government does not tax capital gains on the stock market or raise the taxes of the rich, instead, it cuts or freezes only the benefits of the poor.
MK Tamar Gozansky presents the following list of the spending cuts most harmful to children:21

1) Education:

  1. The construction of new classrooms: The Ministry of Education announced that it will

allot funds to build 500 schoolrooms in the Arab sector in 2002. But in the budget

proposal for 2002 only NIS 175 million was allocated for this purpose, which will suffice

for only 350 new classes.

b) The Government is delaying its planned expansion of the Free Education Law for ages 3-4 (i.e. pre-kindergarten). Free education for these ages has already been granted to the populations on the very lowest of Israel’s socio-economic scale and extension of the law was supposed to cover the next lowest group this year, but the Government budget did not provide for this expansion.

c) Likewise, the Government committed itself to improving educational social services for the 11th and 12th grade, and to strengthening the branch working to prevent children from weak socio-economic backgrounds from dropping out. However, the special budget for this action remained exactly the same as the previous year, while the educational social services budget was reduced by 17% over two years.
2) Delay in Implementation of Laws Pertaining to Children

a) Law of Schoolbook Loans (2001): This law, which would provide poor school children with free textbooks on loan, was postponed for a second time while the number of poor school children rose.

b) Free Education Law for Sick Children (2001) – This law, providing for the complete financial support of school children with severe diseases, was also delayed in implementation for a second year.
3) Socio-Economic Welfare

a) Lack of child support funding when the non-paying father is not a resident of Israel: Many children, who were provided for in the past by the NII when their father didn’t pay his share, will now remain desolate.

b) Deterioration in the conditions of children in families living off income support: Unemployed parents until recently received 49.5% of the average salary. This year, they will receive only 42%.
The February 5, 2002 meeting of the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of the Child was dedicated to the repercussions of the budget cuts presented by Lea Agdud, head of the research department of the National Insurance Institute. The following data was discussed:

-The most drastic cuts in the 2002 budget related to the allowances for children up to age 18. All of the sudden, 13.4% of the money allotted to children, making up 1.1 billion shekels.

-The budget cuts affected all, but hit children from poor families especially hard. Families in the lower four tenths with respects to income will pay 60% of the cuts whereas families in the top two tenths with respects to income will pay only 10% of the budget cuts.

According to the National Insurance Institute, the cuts in child allowances will lower another eleven thousand families under the poverty line in which means approximately forty thousand more children living in poverty. The disheartening effects of the recession are falling sharply and disproportionately on children.

The Arab- Israeli population is especially lacking in funding, and a huge gap persists between what the Government spends on Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Israeli children, as will be discussed in greater detail in the appropriate sections. Some governments, like the Rabin Government, took steps to narrow this gap. But in this field, the action was too little and too late. For example, according to the spokesman for the Monitoring Committee of the Arab Israeli Leadership, there is a shortage of more than 1,600 classrooms in the Arab sector, in addition to a shortage of teachers and facilities to deal with children with learning difficulties. In addition, the Government promised to insert NIS 4 billion into the Arab sector over a four-year period, but then abandoned its plan.22
In May 1997, Adalah filed a petition to the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Education on behalf of the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education to provide academic enrichment programs equally for Arab and Jewish children. Since the 1970s only Jewish students have benefited from this flagship program. Adalah argued that the Ministry of Education intentionally discriminated against Arab students by writing and implementing program guidelines purposely designed to exclude them, and demanded that objective criteria, based on low socio-economic status, be used to decide upon program beneficiaries. One month after the petition was filed the Ministry of Education admitted to historical intentional discrimination, and declared that equality between Jewish and Arab students would be reached within 5 years. Adalah rejected the Ministry of Education’s proposal on the grounds that any delay would effectively sanction the discrimination, and asked for immediate remedy including the establishment and implementation of affirmative action programs. The case was dismissed in July 2000 after pending for 3 years. According to the Supreme Court, the Ministry’s promise to allocate 20% of its budget for these programs for Arab schools was a sufficient remedy. (Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education, et. al., v. Minister of Education, et. al., H.C. 2814/97 filed 5/97)

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