herzog disabled 248.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Social workers and leaders of numerous nonprofit organizations welcomed Labor's entry into the new government this week, if only because it means Isaac Herzog may well continue as welfare and social services minister.
"Over the past two years, Herzog and his director-general, Nachum Itzkovich, have done some excellent work and brought real solutions to some of the country's most critical social problems," said Itzhak Perry, head of the Social Workers Union. "He was willing to deal with everyone and we just hope he can continue with this work."
Perry, together with the leaders of various nonprofit organizations that work with some of the country's weakest populations, were growing increasingly concerned over who - if anyone - would replace Herzog and whether that person would merely use the ministry to further the needs of his own constituents.
While most agree that Herzog has changed the perception of a ministry whose top spot was left vacant for more than three years, and turned it into a government office to be reckoned with, a brief look at his accomplishments over the past two years shows that he worked tirelessly to advance almost every kind of social issue.
From poverty and children at risk to Holocaust survivors' rights, rape victims and the disabled, Herzog has shown equal enthusiasm in his treatment of and recommendations for secular, haredi, Israeli Jewish, Arab and even the Palestinian communities.
Arguably, his greatest achievement was to raise public awareness of the plight of Israel's 260,000 Holocaust survivors. During his tenure, the Knesset successfully legislated a broader definition of who is a survivor and increased the benefits paid out to them for their suffering.
These accomplishments, achieved in April of last year, were a direct result of an interministerial committee appointed by Herzog to look into why one-third of Israel's Holocaust survivors were living below the poverty line.
Though some might point to the state's bureaucracy for holding up the distribution of these additional benefits or say that there are still those who continue to struggle financially, but there is little doubt that that Herzog and Itzkovich treated the issue with the urgency it deserved.
He took on other social issues too, successfully increasing the budget and programming for children and youth at risk, setting up an active committee to find ways to improve nutritional security for needy families and, most recently, reaching an agreement with the Finance Ministry to broaden the criteria for unemployment benefits.
He also made significant changes to the administration of social welfare services in the Israeli-Arab sector and revitalized employment opportunities for the disabled.
Herzog also made significant administrative changes. He replaced the director general of the National Insurance Institute with former Employment Service head Esther Dominissini, a great achievement in one of the country's most change-resistant offices, and provided his own ministry staff with support and motivation that previously been lacking.
Along the way, he was held back by what he described to the Jerusalem Post in one interview as the "Bermuda triangle" - the Finance Ministry's budgets director, the civil service commissioner and the accountant-general.
"This triangle has tormented me as I try to solve some of the basic social problems facing our citizens and improve the services for needy families," he told the Post.
These knots meant the minister had no way of preventing lengthy social-worker sanctions last year and impeded the speed with which many of his reforms were put into motion.
Nevertheless, Herzog leaves office on a high note. Not only has he put some of the spark back into a ministry that few politicians wanted, but he put social welfare issues back in the spotlight.