A beggar on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
AN AMENDMENT has recently been made to the Social Welfare Service Law requiring welfare bureaus in Israel to “assist the needy in exercising all their legal rights, including as regards welfare, health, education, employment, and housing.” And indeed, it’s not enough for the law simply to extend rights to those of limited means, as in many cases these people do not demand the provision of their rights from the authorities, whether due to lack of information or to the relevant authorities being insufficiently accessible. Thus, this amendment to the law now instructs welfare bureaus to take an active stance in helping needy citizens to fully exercise their rights.This amendment is of great moral and philosophical importance. The discourse of rights, which is predominant in modern society, plays a double role. On the one hand, it emphasizes the fact that needy people have the right to assistance from society, which is a matter of law and not voluntary kindness. On the other hand, rights discourse also makes clear that individuals must claim the rights that they deserve. According to this way of thinking, which is individualist by nature, people who don’t demand the fulfillment of their rights, for whatever reason, have no one to blame but themselves. This recent amendment to the law introduces an element of social responsibility that expands the boundaries of rights discourse. Even if needy people do not claim their rights, this does not absolve the state from its responsibility to ensure that they are given what they deserve. Moreover, it is precisely people of reduced means who are more likely to suffer from a lack of information about their rights and from a lack of access to the relevant bodies, and thus emphasizing this responsibility is particularly important.