Herzog slams PM’s attitude toward social issues

Welfare minister criticizes Netanyahu's move to take over Welfare Ministry in redistribution of ministries following Labor split.

Herzog 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Herzog 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In a speech marking his resignation from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, former Labor minister Isaac Herzog spoke out Tuesday against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s failure to adequately address social issues and called on him to immediately appoint a replacement to head the ministry he called “the real social security office of the State of Israel.”
“I would like to remind all of you that before I took over this ministry four years ago, no one else wanted to take on these issues,” said Herzog, in a specially convened press conference. “For three years, this was a neglected ministry in every sense and sadly, it seems that Prime Minister Netanyahu has forgotten this, because he has already announced that he plans to keep the Welfare Ministry in his hands.
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“The decision not to appoint a minister is a big mistake, it will take the ministry back four years to a time when it did not have a leader, did not have a budget, and had no quick responses or solutions to serious social problems,” Herzog added. “Without a leader, there will be no vision on how to solve the country’s ticking social time bomb.”
Herzog, who announced his resignation from the cabinet on Monday as part of a move coordinated with two other Labor Party ministers, highlighted his attempts in recent months to engage Netanyahu in tackling the country‚s growing poverty problem.
“I would like to remind you, Mr. Prime Minister, that six months ago I sent you a letter about establishing a plan to combat poverty in Israel,” Herzog said. “You never even responded to me.
“In light of this, I believe that it is important for you to only appear sympathetic, rather than seriously deal with reducing the deep economic and social gaps that exist today in Israeli society.”
Herzog, who less than a month ago published Working Plan: A Recipe for Social Welfare a book assessing Israel’s deep-rooted social welfare issues, stated, “This, Mr. Prime Minister, is not how you deal with social issues and this is not how you build an effective society.”
The Labor MK was appointed welfare and social services minister under the previous administration in March 2007, taking a portfolio that no other minister had agreed to assume for more than three years.
During his time as minister, Herzog tackled several key issues, such as creating an information center to assist Holocaust survivors in understanding their legal rights and claim financial benefits owing to them; pushing through legislation to increase state support for single mothers; and pushing through reforms in the National Insurance Institute.
“I warn you, Mr. Prime Minister,” quipped Herzog, “Social welfare is not sexy work, the social problems in Israel need to be dealt with day in and day out, every hour and out in the field, with dedication and hard work. There is little time for photo-ops.”
Several nonprofit organizations, as well as Israel’s Social Workers Union, issued statements lamenting Herzog’s resignation and urging the prime minister to appoint a new welfare and social services minister as soon as possible.
“We are very sorry to hear about the minister’s resignation due to the changing political constellation,” commented Itzhak Perry, head of the Social Workers Union. “We have lost a nonsectarian minister truly dedicated to the issues and we just hope that he will not lose his focus on social issues.”
Perry, who last week announced his union’s plan to implement work sanctions in a bid to increase salaries and resources for social workers, added, “Herzog’s voice as a supporter to improve the employment terms for thousands of social workers will be sorely missing as we fight to ensure that the government includes these issues as part of its main agenda.”
Eran Weintraub, director of the humanitarian aid organization Latet, said that the situation in the field and the increasing socioeconomic gaps in Israeli society “demand that we have a full-time, hands on minister.
“We hope that the minister’s resignation will not affect efforts already under way to deal with social issues, especially poverty,” he said. “We hope that the process already set in motion to improve nutritional security will continue.”
“This is a very important portfolio that has an impact on the country’s weakest segments in society,” said Nurit Tsur, director of the Israel Women’s Network. “We hope that a minister is found as soon as possible.”
Closing his speech, Herzog told the media, “I can honestly look in the eyes of the Israeli public and know that I am leaving them a welfare system that is operating smoothly. I feel I am ending an important chapter in my life that has had a huge impact on me on a personal level, but I know that these issues will remain close to my heart.”