NGOs angry over gov’t failure to provide bailout

Groups say NIS 100m. were promised to provide financial boost to organizations, but substantially less is being offered now.

Knesset vote 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Knesset vote 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Social welfare and citizen rights organizations expressed their anger Monday at what they believe is the government’s failure to make good on a three-year-old promise to provide emergency financial aid to non-profits hit hard by the global economic crisis of 2008.
The organizations, which plan to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday, were reacting to an announcement from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services about the distribution of NIS 30 million in financial aid to some 135 non-profit organizations operating in the fields of education, health, immigration and social welfare.
According to the organizations, the government had originally committed to a bailout program of NIS 100m. for both 2009 and 2010, aimed at providing a financial boost to a wide range of NGOs, which had seen a huge drop in local and international donations.
Many of the organizations provide privatized government services to some of the country’s weakest segments of the population.
However, both in the 2009 budget, which was distributed in March 2010 and in the 2010 budget, which was announced on Monday – nearly two years late – the amount offered by the government was substantially less than originally promised.
Sari Revkin, executive director of social empowerment organization Yedid, and one of the NGOs behind the push for a government bailout scheme, told The Jerusalem Post that she was furious over the government’s failure to keep its commitment.
“My first reaction is complete paranoia,” she said. “I feel that they have taken this money from us and are going to use it for whatever recommendations are made by the Trajtenberg Committee. This is something that happens all the time; the government takes funds from one pot and moves it to another one, rather than investing new funds.”
In a letter sent Monday to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Welfare Minister Moshe Kahalon, Yedid – together with the Israel Civic Leadership Association – highlighted the promises made back in 2009 and called on the government to freeze the current allocation until another NIS 70,000 is added to the aid package. The organizations also demanded that the initiative be extended through 2013 because they feel the economic situation facing the countries non-profit sector is set to worsen.
“In most other countries where the third sector is suffering financially the government has done nothing to help them, Israel is the only country in the world, as far as I know, that has decided to offer this kind of assistance for non-profit organizations,” responded Nahum Itzkovitz, director general of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, who has headed the financial aid committee for the past two years.
He added: “I know it is the role of civil society to attack the government and I have accepted this, but I am surprised that the NGOs have not welcomed our good intentions.”
Itzkovitz pointed out that the reduced amount from NIS 100m. to NIS 30m. this year was reached after it was decided that over the past year many of the non-profit organizations had recovered from the financial blow suffered in 2008- 2009.
In the previous year, the amount was also reduced from NIS 100m. to NIS 66m. He said this was due to the lack of nonprofits that qualified for the aid.
Itzkovitz flatly denied that the reduced funding over the past two years was politically motivated – the Finance Ministry had originally suggested NIS 30m. for the bailout package, but was obliged to add more after political pressure from the coalition agreement between Labor and Likud.
Since the promise was made, Labor has left the coalition.
Asked if it was true that Israel’s non-profits had seen some economic recovery over the past year, Yedid’s Revkin responded: “We reject the government’s assessments that NGOs are no longer suffering from financial difficulties. The situation is about to get much, much worse again.”