|Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem|
A kinder, gentler and BETTER Israel!
By REUVEN RIVLIN
Israel doesn’t shy away or back down from challenges that are “impossible” or “difficult.” Without a doubt, it has been the hallmark of our stubborn existence.
The government of Israel remains well aware of its role as both a Jewish and
democratic state and values the status and rights of people with disabilities.
In fact, there is a meaningful connection between Jewish tradition and the
principles of human rights.
Regardless of the other pressing concerns
that appear on the government’s agenda, the focus is never far away from the
challenges of making life better for those citizens with special
Everyone has limitations. I think I can safely say that I will
never run a four minute mile – at least not in this lifetime. And while some of
us may be mathematically gifted, others struggle with basic arithmetic. This has
nothing to do with the development of emotional intelligence. To be human is to
Individuals with special needs face hard barriers and
difficult choices each and every day, but for our community to thrive, they must
be an integral part of our lives and collective vision.
all of us, there are still people who consider people with special needs to be
“disabled” in every respect. Studies have proven this line of thinking to
absurd. The fact of the matter is that many people with special needs display
capability and creativity that go far beyond the talents of those who are
Although our country is only 64 years old, Israel
has come a long way in how people living with mental or physical disabilities
Much of the ongoing change has been a result of the
collective voice of those with special needs and their advocates who alerted
those in power to the inequality in education, employment and medical services.
Disabled citizens and their advocates have helped bring these issues to the
attention of governmental leaders and are demanding the services that are the
right of every citizen in our country.
Responding to this overdue call
for justice, the Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law of 1998 went
into effect and, subsequently, recognizes the fundamental rights of disabled
individuals to enjoy the basic rights and constitutional freedoms and privileges
that are available to every Israeli citizen. This includes barrier free access
to polling places, minimum wage protection and preferential parking spaces at
their places of employment.
Looking out from where I sit in the Knesset,
I can assure anyone who is looking at our imperfect system that the nation’s
legislative body is actively involved in raising awareness in order that, soon,
all members of our diverse population will be treated as equal members of
society in this colorful, multi-textured tapestry called Israel. Realizing that
change begins at home, in recent years the Knesset has outfitted the building in
order for it to be fully accessible to those with mobility challenges. This
includes the Knesset plenum (ramp and raised podium), the committee meeting
rooms, all hallways and adjacent work spaces. The adaptability features of our
government center have made it a popular visiting site for students, tourists
and others who are either able-bodied or living with disabilities.
Knesset has made a concerted effort toward raising awareness and implementing
inherent values of inclusion and celebrating differences.
Just this past
month, the Knesset Speakers Prize was bestowed upon associations and
organizations that best promote equality for people with physical, mental and/or
A key component of integrating citizens with
disabilities is in the employment sector. In keeping with our policies, the
roster of those who work in the Knesset building includes disabled veterans, men
and women with Down syndrome, and others who provide valuable – and valued –
services that make the day-to-day legislative work run smoothly. I must admit
that I frequently feel that we receive more from the contributions of these
marvelous people than we offer.
Their presence in the workplace reminds
all of us that our entire country benefits from interactions that are ethical,
humane and egalitarian- motivated.
We know. We are aware. More can be
done. Nevertheless, it is important for people to remain cognizant that Israel
has a long and proven track record in the “hope department.”
it is not uncommon to see children with Down syndrome on television programs and
there are many exceptional parks for people with physical
The new SHALVA National Children’s Center (under
construction in the heart of Jerusalem) serves as an excellent example of the
types of facilities that are becoming available to this population. This center
will house the largest disability-accessibly playground and park in the country.
In Israel, people who are mentally and/or physically challenged are “out there”;
the Knesset has several members who are living with disabilities. Paraplegic war
heroes are lead actors in several soap operas and athletes with disabilities
like Keren Leibovitch enjoy fame and success.
And one of Israel’s
greatest “international ambassadors” is the world-renowned violinist Itzhak
Perlman, who was afflicted with polio as a child.
Israel doesn’t shy away
or back down from challenges that are “impossible” or “difficult.” Without a
doubt, it has been the hallmark of our stubborn existence not to ask ourselves
if something can be done but, rather, how to do it. We will not abandon the
moral and societal obligations of making our society even more equitable and
enjoyable for all its citizens.
The writer is speaker of the Knesset, and
a Likud MK.