Within hours of the publication of the National Insurance Institute's poverty report on Monday, Meretz gathered the 25 signatures necessary to call a special Knesset debate on the issue for Thursday. The institute's figures showed an increasing number of Israelis dropping below the poverty line. More than one-third - 34.1 percent - of all children are impoverished.
"When a government throws so many people into poverty, it must be thrown out by the public," said Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On.
Labor Party MK Yuli Tamir lashed out at Likud chairman and former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who now heads the Finance Ministry.
"The poverty report proves that the Bibi [Netanyahu]-Olmert government has abandoned more than one-fourth of the public, pushing it beneath the poverty line," she said. "Olmert should admit his failure and make way for someone who knows how to deal with poverty. The national policy is turning Israel into a Third World country in which the middle class is practically nonexistent."
"Olmert is deceiving the public," added Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines. "He promised to fight poverty, and he made do with press conferences and PR visits to soup kitchens. In the name of economic growth, Kadima and the Likud are advancing an opaque economic policy that is crushing Israeli society and hurting the middle class."
Labor candidate Avishay Braverman said his party would seek to implement affirmative action programs for minority communities. "For years Israel has not done what is right for its minority sectors, including the Arabs," he said. "We will change this."
Shas leader Eli Yishai claimed that the current government has "turned poverty into a lethal bacteria that paralyzes the immune system."
Meanwhile Likud officials called on Olmert to pass the 2006 budget before the elections and give an immediate response to the current social crisis.