MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) speaks during a recent protest calling for an increase in disability benefits. .
(photo credit: ANAT VARDIMON)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts toward funding people with disabilities has met with harsh criticism among advocacy groups and Knesset members.
During Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu proposed to raise the budget allocated for people with disabilities, suggesting an increase of NIS 4 billion over four years.
“After the holidays, I intend to bring to the government, together with the minister of finance, a dramatic offer to improve the situation of the disabled in Israel,” he said.
The monthly disability benefit is currently NIS 2,342. The prime minister has proposed raising it to NIS 3,200 – just above the poverty line – and to NIS 4,000 for the most severely disabled.
Alex Friedman co-CEO of the NGO Disabled is Not a Half Person, cautiously welcomed the announcement in a statement released on Sunday.
“It’s about time the prime minister woke up and addressed the disabled, but it’s a pity he is going about it in a bad way,” he said. “We will continue to oppose this and intensify the struggle. We call upon the prime minister for direct dialogue – our struggle is for a life with dignity, not for votes.”
Last December, months after the Knesset asked the High Court of Justice to reject a petition calling for disability payments to be raised to the current minimum wage of NIS 5,000, protests erupted throughout the country.
In August, members of advocacy groups representing the disabled took to the streets and blocked major roads and highways, seriously disrupting traffic.
Hanan Tal, Disabled is Not a Half Person’s founder and co-CEO, told The Jerusalem Post: “We are calling on the prime minister to talk to us directly and give us a permanent solution, not a temporary fix. We are happy that he is dealing with this; it is very sad that we had to do what we did to get his attention and are truly sorry to the people we inconvenienced, but we are happy to hear that he will take care of this.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) was less sanguine, blasting the prime minister in a Sunday statement of his own.
“This is a continuation of the policy of throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” he said. “We are fed up with the empty promises and declarations without coverage. After 16 years, it is time to raise the allocation of the disabled.”
There are currently some 238,000 Israelis who have disabilities. Of these, some 195,000 are classified as being 100% disabled and rely solely on their monthly allowance to make ends meet. The monthly allowance has remained stagnant for the past 16 years.
Gilon, himself disabled, has been involved in promoting the rights of disabled people for nearly two decades and has been directly involved in the efforts to raise the monthly allowance to NIS 5,000.
“This is not a NIS 2,342 allowance,” he said. “This is a dirty joke at the expense of the disabled. The government continues to do everything to... continue the abuse of the disabled population. A quarter of a million Israelis demand justice – and we will not stop struggling until they get it.”
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) also spoke out against the Netanyahu in a statement issued on Sunday.
“The government is lying again, promising people with disabilities NIS 4b. in order for them to live in dignity, and it simply does not exist,” she said. “People with disabilities are no less human than Netanyahu, [Finance Minister Moshe] Kahlon and [Labor and Social Services Minister Haim] Katz, and it’s time for them to act accordingly.”
Cobi Cohen, CEO of the NGO Action Association of Handicapped People, told the Post on Sunday: “What the government did today was to propose something that does not work for everybody.”
He called it “very populist” to say the country’s disabled would benefit.
“Netanyahu is proposing that the highest level of disability will be only NIS 4,000, which leaves almost 100,000 people with nothing,” Cohen said. “This is what that statement is suggesting, so they are crazy because you have to consider that they will raise the minimum wage soon, and when they raise it, we will get no guarantee that they will raise our benefits along with it.”
The Knesset will take up the matter when it ends its summer recess next month.