After two years of hesitation and backtracking, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu finally announced Monday the launch of a new NIS 100 million national
program for tackling nutritional security.
The program aims to address
the nutritional needs of thousands of poverty-stricken families through 2013 as
well as bring some order to the hundreds of food aid charities distributing food
to the needy, and is part of a series of measures to address poverty in Israel,
declared Netanyahu. He presented the initiative to the media at his office in
Jerusalem, together with Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe
However, this program comes less than two years after former
welfare minister and current Labor MK Isaac Herzog announced a similar
His program never came to fruition after funds slated for it did
not receive final approval from the Finance Ministry.
Monday’s announcement, NIS 100m. will be directed towards the distribution of
special “food credit cards” to those in need, replacing the standard food
The program will also place special emphasis on the elderly and
children in need, and will create an agency to determine ethics in food
distribution to the poor.
The committee, which will be headed by retired
Supreme Court judge Ayala Procaccia, will also consist of government officials
and professionals from the nonprofit sector. Charities will have to comply with
the ethical code laid out by the committee in order to qualify for assistance
and approval from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry.
“The goal is
to make sure that the needy do not have to go to the food but that the food will
come to them,” the prime minister explained, emphasizing the need to maintain
dignity and honor in food aid distribution.
The announcement of the new
program comes after more than five years of intense pressure from nonprofit food
charities, which claim they can no longer continue to feed the country’s needy
without assistance from the government.
While those organizations
welcomed Monday’s announcement, many pointed out that NIS 100m. is simply not
enough to tackle the country’s poverty problem in its entirety. The most recent
figures from the National Insurance Institute show that more than 433,000
families – or some 1,733,400 people – lived below the poverty line in 2010.
However, organizations working in the field say that the number of individuals
needing assistance is much higher.
In a joint statement, food aid agency
Latet and food rescue organization Leket Israel – with both organizations
representing more than 200 food distribution charities in total – said this step
showed that the government is finally taking on some of the responsibility to
solve a problem that “until now has only been addressed by third sector aid
The two NGOs said they hoped this step would be the start
of real change in treating all populations that suffer from nutritional
insecurity and that more steps will be taken to support “vulnerable
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and CEO of the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a nonprofit that has been
working closely with the Welfare and Social Services Ministry to initiate a
system of food aid vouchers and credit cards, said the decision to increase the
budget for food aid distribution was an important step.
highlighted that it was still “far from being a complete solution to the problem
of poverty and nutritional security in Israel.”
The idea to develop such
a program was ignited five years ago, after Latet petitioned the High Court of
Justice demanding that the government take more responsibility to feed its needy
citizens. A subsequent report authored by Welfare and Social Services Ministry
director- general Nahum Itzkovitz, who was also at Monday’s press conference,
found that the food aid sector was not regulated and did not always provide the
right kinds of food to those in need.
Based on that report, Latet and
Leket were awarded government tenders to create and operate a special
governmentbacked food aid distribution program. With an original budget of NIS
22m. and support from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the
program – like the one announced Monday – was meant help coordinate the work of
hundreds of nonprofit organizations distributing food to the needy, and raise
the quality of food being handed out.
That program, however, did not
materialize because the funds slated for it did not receive final government