Start-Up Nation faces major poverty and hunger issues

Leket Israel currently redistributes about 16,000 tons of food on an annual basis, which positively impacts the national economy.

By JOSEPH GITLER
July 10, 2016 20:59
2 minute read.
Poverty in Israel

A homeless person begs for change in Israel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Israel is given tremendous credit as a global leader in education, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, nearly one-fourth of the country lives below the poverty line.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently reported that Israel has the second-highest poverty rate among its 34 member countries, with 21 percent of Israelis living below the poverty line. The sad reality is that relative to other western, capitalist societies, Israel is far from unique. The United States trails closely behind, with 17% of Americans living below the poverty line.

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To a casual observer, these statistics might seem shocking and almost unfathomable. When walking around the glittering streets of Tel Aviv, whose modern buildings and sophisticated, high-end restaurants boast prosperity, Israel seems far from a poor country. Like many other western nations, though, Israel faces a major pay gap, a phenomenon that is entirely consistent with being the “start-up nation.”

While the OECD report shines a light on a major issue in Israel, it is important to consider the potential flaws in its findings. First, Israel has a gray economy in which not all income is accurately reported.

Second, various minorities, including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, confront different challenges that contribute to broader economic problems. Third, Israel is a country built on immigrants, and it takes a significant amount of time for new citizens to integrate into an entirely different economic system.

Despite those flaws, the findings reveal staggering numbers.

It is imperative for Israel to take action to reduce the number of citizens who live below the poverty line. I feel the best approach is to start by examining the Scandinavian economic model. Through this exploration, Israel can learn how to incorporate more of a Nordic economic system and implement social democracy within a capitalist framework. This would help resolve social and economic conflicts.

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Israel has been incredibly innovative and creative, but it also needs to use that creativity and innovation in the governmental and not-for-profit fields. It is with this in mind that I started Leket Israel, the national food bank, more than 13 years ago.

Our response and solution at Leket Israel is characterized by a “start-up nation” DNA. We take an existing resource (excess food) and design the most effective and efficient way of maximizing its societal benefit.

I personally began rescuing food in my car and redistributing it to local agencies, and my efforts slowly developed and grew.

In order to gain a better understanding of some of the issues facing Israeli citizens living below the poverty line so that we can more effectively provide solutions, Leket Israel published the findings from an inaugural BDO annual study.

The findings, not previously available, show that 18% of Israelis suffer from food insecurity and that about half of the 2.5 million tons of food that is wasted is actually fit for human consumption. The findings also reveal that NIS 18 billion worth of food was wasted in Israel in 2015 alone, a figure representing 1.6% of the GDP.

Leket Israel currently redistributes about 16,000 tons of food on an annual basis, which positively impacts the national economy. As a part of our broader food rescue mission, we aim to combat the country’s hunger problems, so that the great citizens of the Israeli nation do not have to live below the poverty line.

The writer is founder and chairman of Leket Israel. For more information, go to www.leket.org.

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