The growing social and economic problems facing this country have turned the position of minister of social affairs into a job that no politician really wants, according to Itzik Perry, chairman of the Organization of Social Workers.
"Politicians seem to be scared to take on the issues of poverty in this country," Perry told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday during a two-hour organized walk-out of social workers country-wide.
"We are not only striking because no minister of social affairs has been appointed by the prime minister, but also because all the political parties in the coalition spoke about 'a new day of social welfare' in the build-up to the election, but when it came down to negotiating portfolios, the issues of social welfare all but disappeared from the agenda," added Perry, whose staff refused to work in protest Sunday between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Social workers are responsible for overseeing the welfare of hundreds of at-risk children, providing services for the disabled and other members of the community in need of help, said Perry. "The Ministry of Social Affairs is central to dealing with the growing poverty in this country," he said, adding that the organization hoped the walk-out would send a message to the United Torah Judaism Party, which is expected to eventually take over the ministry, that basic Jewish values dictate Jews must help save each other from "troubled situations."
Ministry spokesman Nahum Ido said he believed the problem of a lack of a minister would be sorted out fairly soon as talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and UTJ were ongoing. Current Deputy Social Affairs Minister Avraham Ravitz is expected to take up the office. The position has been empty since Zevulun Orlev quit the post in opposition to the disengagement plan last summer.
Then prime minister Ariel Sharon assumed responsibility for the ministry and kept it under his jurisdiction even after the Labor Party and UJT joined the government. It was at that time Ravitz took on the role of deputy social affairs minister.
At the time, Orlev said that not having a social affairs minister was "a serious problem. The minister participates in all the meetings in the government, and there almost isn't an issue that doesn't touch on social affairs." He also noted that a deputy minister doesn't get to vote in cabinet meetings.
Perry said that the country's social workers would continue to fight until a new minister was appointed. "We will continue to protest until a minister who is willing to take on the responsibility of the problems of this country is appointed," he said.