The struggle of the disabled in Israel has been a long and frustrating one, and in recent weeks it again has flared up and the issue of allowance is at the center of the controversy. While it is very hard for an outsider (and probably also for someone who is dependent on a government allowance because of his disability) to determine what a disabled person is entitled to, and what will happen if he has additional sources of income, there is little doubt that a large number of disabled people in Israel live on the allowance that the NII (National Insurance Institute) pays out, which is less that NIS 2,500 or about 70% of the minimum wage.
The argument of the disabled is very simple: if the State decided that there is a minimum amount of money required for simply living (the “minimum wage”), how come the disability allowances are way below that? The arguments may be many and varied, but the bottom line is simple: the average disabled person in Israel, receives too much to die and too little to live.
So why has it been so hard to convince the powers that be to increase the disability allowances in Israel? I want to dismiss arguments coming from the Committee set up by Netanyahu to examine the issue that raising the allowances too much would result in a decreased willingness of the disabled to go to work as totally ludicrous, but putting lack of interest, indifference, and stupidity aside, the only thing that is left is preferences and the importance that is given to the handicapped population is Israel.
The amount of money Israel has to spend is limited and our representatives in the Knesset, including and in particular, the government, is to make decisions as to how the money is spent and at what levels. We, the people, chose these representatives, because we believe they can get the job done and get it done taking into account the needs of all in Israeli society.
So how are decisions to spend money really taken, and do our representatives have the means and the will to make informed decisions? The problem is that most have forgotten what they are actually supposed to do. They have forgotten who put them where they are and that they are supposed to represent us, not just narrow coalition requirements.
So what do our honorable representatives spend our money on? Most of the Israeli Budget is decided upon and spent without the average member of the Knesset having a clue as to what is going on.
Enormous sums are spent on the Army and it is hard to argue with demands from the military, in particular when the “Security of the State” is invoked, but do we really need those super novel warplanes? Won’t we survive without those submarines? I am not going to dispute the Army demands, but isn’t that why I put representatives in the Knesset, so that they can dispute and investigate and make informed decisions. A lot of disabled could have higher allowances if we bought one or two planes less and made do with one less submarine.
Another major expenditure is the Haredi population in Israel. Again, it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much money is spent on demands from the Haredi parties, but one thing is certain: the average Knesset member doesn’t have a clue and even if he did it wouldn’t matter. The coalition agreements call for moneys to be allocated to Haredi issues and the opinion or wishes or demands of our representatives (if they had opinions, wishes or demands which I doubt), really do not make a difference. The money is spent to save the coalition. Could anybody calculate how many lives of disabled citizens could be improved if we did not throw away the money on Haredi blackmail? It must be said here that in this instance at least the Haredi Knesset members do their job and demand that the needs of their constituency are served. Of course they are being told what to do every step of the way, but still……
And then of course there is the settlement building. Here at least some of the Knesset members are a little more informed. Some of them are fanatic right wingers who will do anything to continue to expand illegal settlements in the occupied territories and no costs will be spared to move this forward as fast as possible. These Knesset members are also taking care of the needs of some of their constituents I guess. But here also it doesn’t really matter. Coalition agreements force the hand of the government (if forcing was necessary at all) and the money on illegal settlements is spent without anyone having the possibility to do something about it. Imagine how many disabled people will be able to get a decent allowance if we forgo just one settlement?
There is one topic that all Knesset members are surely very well informed about: their compensation. While they find it hard to decide that a disabled person in Israel needs at least the minimum wage in order to live with dignity, they have no problem taking home NIS 40, 000 every month as compensation for their activities as a member of the Israeli parliament. This is exactly 10 times what the disabled are being offered now! And while a disabled person will see his allowance cut for every other source of income he may have, Knesset members, get a list of benefits in ADDITION to their salary which is dizzying: Health Insurance including annual overall checkups; Pension Fund; Study Fund; free phone lines, both at home and mobile; a leased car at their disposal; an office; fund for language study; a budget for contacts with the population and so on and so forth.
But all that made it apparently impossible to understand that a disability allowance of NIS 4,000 which is now being proposed, is scandalous, shameful and disgraceful. That, while it is clear that differences in income, standard of living and wealth will always remain, it cannot be justified that a group of the population is forced to make do with NIS 4,000 (and often less) which for all sense and purposes condemns them to poverty, while its representatives pocket 10 times that.
Unfortunately, the disabled are not alone. Children go to bed hungry, elderly make choices between food and medicine, Holocaust survivors suffer in the cold of the Israeli winter and, in general, more than 20% of the population lives in poverty.
So where is our representation? Where are the Knesset members that we chose? Do they care at all?
We are a disabled nation.