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December 13, 2002 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-12-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


This Week

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In addition to the violence of the
intifada (uprising), Israel has been suf-
fering from a widening recession,
brought on by the collapse of the
high-tech industry and the worldwide
economic downturn. Unemployment
has risen above 10 percent, and the
country's economy is expected to grow
by just 0.5 percent in 2003.
The numbers speak for themselves,
experts .say:
• The number of poor Israeli chil-
dren increased by nearly 50 percent in
2001, to about 530,000.
• The United Nations Human
Development Index for 2002 ranked
Israel 22nd out of 174 countries, plac-
ing it among the world's most devel-
oped countries. Yet Israel's ranking in
the next index is expected to drop, as
the number of Israelis living below the
poverty line is one of the highest in
the Western world.
• A recent report from the Knesset
committee on social gaps showed that
the average monthly income for the
top 10 percent of Israeli households
was around $9,000
or 12 times the
$716 average income in the bottom
10th of the population.

20 Percent Poor

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As the calendar approaches Tuesday,
Dec. 24, a confrontation looms
between Israel and the Palestinian
Authority over whether Yasser Arafat
should be allowed to attend a mid-
night mass that evening in Bethlehem.
Last year, he was denied passage.


Arafat's attendance at the Dec. 24
service would serve to legitimize his
leadership of the Palestinians, some-
thing the Israelis and Americans are
unlikely to support following his
failure to curb terrorism over the
past two years.
His presence in Bethlehem also
would mask the fact that terrorism
has destroyed the Palestinian econo-
my, including that of the Christian
middle class in Bethlehem and
other West Bank towns.

— Allan Gale, Jewish Conzinunity
Council of Metropolitan Detroit

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The findings expose a "society deep in
a process of total collapse," said
Cohen, who headed the committee's
yearlong study.
Worsening economic conditions have
led to severe budget cuts, primarily in
social welfare. While politicians and
ministers haVe lobbied successfully for
larger outlays for security and defense,
little progress has been made on fund-
ing and policies to battle poverty
"The poverty trend has brought us
to this situation where the State of
Israel is saying, 'We aren't equipped to
handle this or we're not interested,"'
said Joanie Gal, a lecturer at Hebrew
University's social work school. "There
could be a different bUdcret that thinks
more about the weaker sectors of the
population," Gal said. "The priorities
could be changed, even in this terrible
economic-security situation."
There are those who at least pay lip
service to the poverty situation and
income gap. At this week's Israel
Business Conference, keynote speaker
Eli Hurvitz, chairman of drugmaker
Teva Pharmaceuticals and an active
Labor Party member, said he was con-
vinced the economy is capable of earn-
ing enough to provide workers and the
unemployed with a decent living.
Citing what he called Israel's "defec-
tive" political culture, Hurvitz-dis-

missed the government's tendency to
blame its economic failures on the
"We can't blame everything on the
intifada," he said. "There is more pover-
ty and inequality, and less growth."
In fact, the figures show that the lat-
est poverty report is not an aberration
and can't be blamed on the intifada,
which began a little over two years
ago, said Danny Guttwein, a lecturer
at Haifa University. As Israel reached
Western European income levels dur-
ing the 1990s — and economic poli-
cy-makers liberalized the economy in
the direction of free-market capitalism
— economic inequality also soared.
"There wasn't a 'poverty oversight,'"
Guttwein said.
Rather, the poverty report tells of a
continuing trend based on socioeconom-
ic policies that have guided the country
for the last 20 years. "It shows that
poverty has become a life experience for a
wide sector of society," Guttwein said.
"That is the most prominent statistic in
the report: that poverty has become the
basic experience for many Israelis."
So far, none of the major party lead-
ers has proposed a serious plan for
addressing poverty. The result will be
the undermining of the foundations of
Israeli democracy, Guttwein warned.
"The time has come for the people
who have been running the economy
for the last 20 years to give up their
places," Guttwein said, "for the good
of a more social and equal society."

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