Israel Prize laureate urges Knesset to hear ‘silent poor'

Rosenfeld will also unveil new data showing that majority of Israelis (98%) would like to see the government increase spending on programs to help the poor break out of the poverty cycle.

October 19, 2010 04:22
3 minute read.
Some 750,000 children suffer from food insecurity.

soup kitchen 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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Israel Prize winner Prof. Yonah Rosenfeld plans to call on lawmakers in the Knesset on Tuesday to take time out of their busy schedules and really listen to the country’s “unseen and unheard poor.”

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, Rosenfeld, who heads the Israel Forum for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, said his goal was to create a “dialogue between members of parliament and people living in poverty” and “to give a voice” to the country’s poor.

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“This issue is so neglected here,” said Rosenfeld, who won the Israel Prize in 2002 for his work at Hebrew University’s School of Social Work. “Those who live in poverty here are seen as objects rather than members of society, but they are members of society and they do have something contribute.”

On Sunday, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Central Bureau of Statistics released data on the poverty and well-being of the population in Israel compared to those residing within the European Union.

According to those figures, 29 percent of Israelis who are not yet poor are at risk of falling below the poverty line, compared to only 16% of those living within EU states. Also, 38% of Israeli children and 33% of the elderly here were at risk of becoming poor, compared to 19% of children living in the EU and 20% of pensioners respectively.

Israel’s poverty challenges will be highlighted in the Knesset on Tuesday, with many of the key legislative committees tackling the issue.

Rosenfeld’s forum, which is made up of several non-profit organizations and poverty-stricken individuals, will bring together politicians with those who live below the poverty line and those who work to help them.

“Our whole idea is to create a partnership; it’s based on the philosophy of the Fourth World Movement, ‘Don’t talk at me, talk to me,’ and it is an invitation for discourse,” he explained.

Rosenfeld said he had already held meetings with the Fourth World Movement – a global network of people in poverty and those from other backgrounds who work in partnership toward overcoming the exclusion and injustice of persistent poverty – to begin operating in Israel possibly within the next year.

“What I admire most about the movement is that they do everything except to hand out money [to poor individuals],” he continued. “They believe that people living in poverty can become active members in their society.”

“I am very much against the feeding of the poor,” Rosenfeld added. “I think it is really putting them down and not giving them respect. We believe that this is not what should be done, but rather there has to be change in terms of employment and educational opportunities.”

Rosenfeld’s forum has been meeting consistently over the past two years to tackle Israel’s deepening poverty crisis, and he is now a firm believer that it is not about “attacking the government” and its failure to address the problems, but instead about listening to the poor and helping them “to discover what is hidden inside them.”

“People living in poverty have unbelievable qualities but do not have the chance to express it,” he said, stressing the need to address these issues “with discussions and tenderness.”

Rosenfeld added, “For example, in researching for my book I discovered that a French electric company stopped cutting off the electricity of people living in poverty after they met those people and were impressed by their tenderness.”

In addition to using Tuesday’s events to encourage dialogue with the country’s poor, Rosenfeld’s forum will also unveil new data showing that the majority of Israelis (98%) would like to see the government increase spending on programs to help the poor break out of the poverty cycle, and more than half of the population are willing to see their taxes increased so that the poverty gaps are reduced.

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