Budget Cuts Discriminate
Against Arab Children
On June 6, the Knesset approved the emergency economic package, including a controversial clause for 24% cuts in child allowances for children whose parents did not serve in the army.
Child allowances are distributed to families through the National Insurance Institute. For families living under the poverty line, child allowances enable purchase of basic needs, such as food, clothing, and medicine. According to Mossawa Center analysis, 52% of Arab children in Israel already live below the poverty line. This cut in child allowances will increase this number to as high as 70%. In the ultra-orthodox city of Bnei Brak, the child poverty rate is currently 45.7%. This budget cut, while serving short-term needs, will institutionalize the poverty of an entire generation of children.
Although army service is used as the basis for giving many economic benefits, such as education subsidies, in this case army service is being used to take benefits away. It is especially problematic, because the cuts affect children, who do not serve in the army. The cut will primarily affect Arab children, as well as children of ultra-orthodox parents, handicapped parents, new immigrants, and other parents who were exempted from the army for health or other reasons.
The proposal to cut child allowances has been the subject of much debate over the past month. When the economic plan was first sent to the Financial Committee, they created a special committee to deal with the child allowance cuts. In the Knesset debate, the Labor Party proposed several alternatives to the severe cuts, citing the precedent set by the late Yitzhak Rabin to equalize child allowances regardless of army service. In the end, Labor Chair Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was strong-armed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into voting for the economic plan, including the discriminatory cuts in child allowances.
But the struggle to stop discriminatory budget cuts is not over. On Thursday June 13, there were seven petitions against the cuts in the High Court in Jerusalem. The petitioners included the National Committee of Heads of Local Councils, many MKs, and NGOs for children's rights and civil rights. The Mossawa Center was there, demonstrating in cooperation with the National Committee of Arab Local Councils and Ta'ayush, the Arab-Jewish Partnership for Equality. The High Court's decision was fast. The government now has 20 days to explain to the court why it chose to give lower child allowances to children whose parents did not serve in the army. If the government does not respond within 20 days, the High Court will open the case for a deeper debate, to examine whether such discrimination is legal according to the Basic Laws of Israel.
These 20 days are our chance to pressure the government to rescind the discriminatory cuts in child allowances. The government has appointed a special committee of cabinet ministers to discuss the issue. These ministers will be the focus of our advocacy efforts. In the next 20 days, we will send letters from organizations, letters from significant community members, and petitions. We will organize meetings with each of these ministers, and work to convince them to change the discriminatory law.
Please send faxes and emails to the members of the ministers' committee, expressing your commitment to equal rights and opposing the measure to discriminate against children. Attached please find a sample letter. Please send copies to each of the ministers, and CC the Mossawa Center.
Fax numbers and e-mail addresses of the special ministers' committee:
Ariel Sharon email@example.com ++972-2-5664838
Silvan Shalom firstname.lastname@example.org ++972-2-5635769
Shimon Peres email@example.com ++972-2-5303506
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer firstname.lastname@example.org ++972-3-6976218
Eli Yishai email@example.com ++972-2-5666376
Natan Sharansky   firstname.lastname@example.org ++972-2-6496172
Dan Meridor email@example.com ++972-2-6753100
David Levy firstname.lastname@example.org ++972-3-6397447
Effie Eitam email@example.com ++972-2-6537470
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The Journal of History - Fall 2002 Copyright © 2002 by News Source, Inc.