Social rights groups to continue fight to lower prices

NGOs say PM’s measures don’t go far enough; ‘The battle is only just beginning.’

By
February 13, 2011 03:17
3 minute read.
Gasoline prices [illustrative photo]

Gasoline prices gas tax 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Social rights groups working with the country’s poorest populations reacted angrily over the weekend to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s plans to address the rising costs of basic commodities and attempts to avert an all-out general strike in both the public and private spheres.

At a press conference Thursday evening, Netanyahu and Steinitz announced that the government would move forward with plans to raise the minimum wage and roll back recent increases in water, public transportation and gasoline prices.

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However, a handful of NGOs criticized the measures saying they did not go far enough to help the country’s poor and middle class.

“This is another example of how Prime Minister Netanyahu did not read the political landscape and forgot that people come before profits,” a conglomerate of rights groups wrote in a statement entitled “The battle is only just beginning.”

According to the organizations, which included Shatil, the social rights branch of the New Israel Fund; the Israel Center for Social Justice; and the Social-Economic Academy, a non-profit that discusses various economic, social and environmental issues, the steps announced by the government “would not resolve the heavy financial burdens placed on the lower and middle class populations,” which have faced increasing costs in housing and education, as well as a sharp rise in the costs of basic necessities over the past few months.

“Reducing the cost of public transport, lowering water prices and the tax on fuel are positive steps but they are just the tip of the iceberg of problems in the Israeli economy,” wrote the groups.

The prime minister, they maintained, did not address the rise in costs of child day care, basic produce and housing, which has increased by some 30 percent in the last two years.

“The public is not stupid and they know that what he claims to refund in one pocket, he will take out of another pocket,” wrote the organizations referring to the intention of the government to make a 2% budget cut across the board to all ministries.

“At the end of the day, citizens will receive even less while they continue to pay more.”

The organizations said they will hold a one-day symposium on Monday in order to examine the situation and plan a course of action that could involve public protests over deteriorating economic conditions.

Meanwhile, Eran Weintraub, Director of the non-profit humanitarian aid organization Latet, which supplies basic goods to more than 100 food aid charities country-wide, also attacked the Prime Minister’s proposal calling it a “superficial public debate around these price increases.

“All the moves of Prime Minister Netanyahu, are within the rich, neo-economic policy framework and his consistent capitalist policies only serve to display his disregard for more than two million people who are in need in this country,” Weintraub said, adding that Latet would continue to demand that the government creates an emergency plan to reduce poverty and show a commitment to stay in line with the policies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which Israel joined last year, and work to combat poverty over the next decade.

A consortium of organizations and youth movements held demonstrations at 47 major intersections from Kiryat Shmona to Mitzpe Ramon on Friday in protest of the recent price increases. Not appeased by the government’s measures announced on Thursday, the consortium which calls itself the ‘Five M’s’ issued a statement in which it said “we will not allow the government and the Treasury to exchange whips for scorpions – we will not allow there to be an across the board cut of 2% to education, health and welfare.”

The consortium’s name recalls Revisionist philosopher Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s list of the five services that a government is obliged to provide its citizens – housing, clothing, food, education and medicine – a jab at Netanyahu, whose ideological background lies in the Revisionist movement.

Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.


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