All Israel
guest column

Will anyone fix the poverty in Israel?

An elderly woman searches for cans in a trash can at Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, Oct. 30, 2022. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The new Israeli government says it has a plan to reduce living costs, which might come as very welcome news to the sector of Israeli citizens – one in five families – who have lived below the poverty line in recent times.

The government plan calls for a one-year freeze of property taxes, known in Hebrew as “arnona,” along with a moratorium, or temporary pause, on further hikes in gas prices. In addition, there will be a 70% discount on water and electricity bills. Finally, disability stipends will be forthcoming now as opposed to near the end of the year. 

All of these measures are believed to provide some sort of relief in the constant battle of rising prices. 

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quoted by The Jerusalem Post, these “first steps” will “fight the generators of inflation as they reduce the monthly expenses of every family in Israel, as well as slow down the pace of price increases and start turning the wheel backwards.” 

A second article in the same newspaper is titled “1 in 5 Israelis lived below the poverty line in 2021,” showing that these shocking poverty levels actually existed already under Netanyahu’s watch, as he was prime minister in 2021.  

The article states that “26% of households in Israel were unable to cover all monthly expenses in 2021.” 

Some chose to forgo necessary medical treatments or prescription drugs for lack of money to pay for them. 

According to the published statistics, nearly 2 million people were considered poor in 2021, causing Israel to “have the second-highest poverty rate in the developed world, second only to Costa Rica.”

Of course, this data was gathered at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s possible that the furloughing of some citizens increased these numbers. For Israel to have the second-highest poverty rate of developed nations is, nonetheless, surprising, since Israel is ranked No. 4 in “best performing economies” among the OECD nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 

The OCED is an international indicator of prosperity, equality, opportunity and well-being for nation states, measuring these according to the country’s gross domestic debt, inflation, stock market performance and national debt. 

Now, in 2023, with ever-increasing prices, especially at the supermarket and the gas pump, most Israeli citizens are being forced to confront the fact that their money buys a lot less than it did just a few months ago. So, the new government, amid all its other challenges – which are not inconsequential, especially in relation to perceived threats to democracy – would do well to make every possible allowance for citizens to continue to be able to buy food without having to cut back on medical essentials.

Hardest hit are the elderly, large families and those who lost employment as a result of the pandemic, causing them to fall behind financially.  

Among the first measures taken by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was to lower taxes on disposable plastic goods, including plates and utensils, and bottled soft drinks – products more frequently purchased by the religious sector, which uses separate dishes as part of their kosher observance.  

These tax reductions might be a start, but greater measures will be necessary to provide the rest of Israel’s population with the sense that they are also being given economic relief.

ALL ISRAEL NEWS is committed to fair and balanced coverage and analysis, and honored to publish a wide-range of opinions. That said, views expressed by guest columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of our management or staff.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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