Also in this Briefing
A report from National Insurance Institute last week showed a growing disparity in wealth in Israel: one in four families now lives below the poverty line, and more than one in three children. But while the news pages were stuffed with details of the report and leading commentators were shocked by the findings, most made little or no mention that Arab families have been by far the biggest victims of growing impoverishment in Israel.
Avishai Braverman of the Labor party, for example, suggested that the problem could be significantly eased if higher pensions were paid out, while MK Yuli Tamir argued that generous student loans were a solution.
One of the few commentators to mention the “Arab sector” was Yosef Goell, who writes regularly for the Jerusalem Post and was once its managing editor. But his refence was only to discount that Arabs were the main group suffering from poverty. What was his evidence? His two grandsons, serving in the paratroopers and the Golani Brigade, had told him that comrades needed to steal food from their canteens to take back to their struggling families at the weekends. “Poverty has clearly hit the men who fight in the elite units of our armed forces - an extremely dangerous situation,” concluded Goell.
Despite Goell’s kind of scientific research, it is worth pondering what more informed observers have determined about poverty in Israel. The Ibn Khaldun Association, for example, has analysed the 2002 National Insurance statistics to show that, based on net income, Arab families were twice as likely to fall below the poverty line as Jewish families: 55.6 per cent against 28.5 per cent.
But even more striking was the discovery that the combined effect of tax and National Insurance Institute benefits only widened further the disparity in poverty levels between Jews and Arabs. While the benefits lifted many Jewish families out of poverty, it left most Arab families stuck there. In 2002, after tax and benefit adjustments, 44.7 per cent of Arab families were still poor and only 11.5 per cent of Jewish families - or four times as many. (It should be noted that these figures underestimate poverty among Arab citizens because they exclude the 100,000 or so who live in communities the state refuses to recognise. These families are the poorest in Israel.)
The official statistics chart a trend of growing impoverishment of Arab citizens over the previous decade that is a direct outcome of government legislation. Since 1990 Jewish levels of poverty have decreased marginally while Arab levels of poverty have actually increased by as much as a third.
Goell and other israeli journalists might care to contemplate those figures rather than ignoring or discounting the suffering of Arab families.