International Day for the Elimination of Poverty: Interview with a Senior Activist Tackling Growing Poverty in Israel

20 October 2009 By New Israel Fund

Eitan Michaeli, Executive Director of NIF grantee Israeli Center for Food Security, spoke about the recent rise in poverty in Israel owing to the economic crisis and welfare cuts as the world marked International Day for the Elimination of Poverty on October 17.

Established by staff and students at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the organization seeks to improve the quality and quantity of nutritional intake among Israel's disadvantaged.

"We are seeing more unemployed, while the employed are earning less," explained Michaeli, a former Deputy Director of SHATIL's Be’er Sheva office. "Our surveys show that in southern development towns like Sderot and Yerucham, 40 percent of families suffer from a lack of nutritional security, and in 20 percent of these families both parents are working."

He added, "The population sector worst hit are the Negev Bedouin. Malnutrition among Negev Bedouin children requires urgent government intervention because it's getting worse. Setting up communal kitchens will also provide employment for Bedouin women."

Michaeli said that his organization promotes enforcement of current laws such as the provision of school meals and minimum salaries and pensions, as well as promoting new policies such as seeking higher welfare payments.

After a protracted struggle, the Knesset agreed to mark International Day for the Elimination of Poverty for the first time ever on November 17.  The initiative for the event came from SHATIL's Forum for Marking International Day for the Elimination of Poverty, a coalition of NIF grantees including Community Advocacy: Genesis Israel and Organization for Housing Rights.

The day-long events will include a Knesset plenum debate, Knesset committee discussions and a conference. SHATIL Lobbying Consultant Shmulik David said, "The poor have no voice and this will give them a chance to come to the Knesset to be heard. With poverty rising due to the economic crisis, this day will be an opportunity to raise awareness about the problem and find solutions."