Advisory Service for Citizens points users toward their legal and civil rights

Requests up 8 percent in past year.

call center 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
call center 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
After the Yom Kippur War, a soldier came back from battle suffering from shock. His family, unwilling to treat him at a mental hospital, which was then the conventional response, turned to the newly established Advisory Service for Citizens (ASC) for help. More than 30 years later, over a quarter of a million people have used the Advisory Service for Citizens - a Welfare and Social Services Ministry system designed to make civilians aware of their legal and civil rights - during the past year. The service reported 289,700 users, a growth of over 40,000, or 8 percent, over last year's figure of 243,328. "The main goal is to teach the citizen in Israel the subject of civil rights," ASC Manager Oded Aron told The Jerusalem Post. "If someone encounters a problem in his life, if he loses his job or is sick, instead of finding a social worker, he can deal with it himself. He will know the relevant laws." Most of the problems that ASC deals with relate to the rights of the worker in the workplace. Aron cited as an example a service employee in a house who may call ASC to determine his legal rights in that job, and that often the employer would call ASC with a similar question. Aron added that the service also handled calls from workers changing jobs, who would like to know what compensation they deserved from the companies they were leaving. The service also acts as a resource for consumer rights and for help with Israel's heath care system. In addition to making its users aware of their rights, ASC provides services similar to social work that focus on conflict mediation between two dissatisfied parties, such as a couple going through divorce proceedings. In addition to providing the couple with an outline of their respective legal rights, ASC would connect the couple with a social worker or lawyer who could give further guidance. Aron attributes the rise in users to the changing nature of Israeli society. "The service expresses what happens in the state," said Aron. "The character of commerce has changed. There are many people working in the service industry now. There have been a lot of requests concerning family problems. People always think you can solve everything through courts, but you can't." The service operates through a corps of 1,000 volunteers based in cities around the country. Many of the volunteers are retired professionals including over 150 lawyers, 40 former national security professionals and several accountants. "I credit the volunteers of ASC for the rise in users, which shows how necessary and positive this service is," said Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog. "The secret to the service's success is the hundreds of volunteers who give their time in exchange for nothing, who help citizens realize their rights in the confusion of the Israeli bureaucracy. They are a source of pride to everyone." ASC volunteer Ariella Shpielman, who volunteers as a general adviser in Herzliya, said that the job made her feel like she could make a concrete difference in people's lives. "To give is something outstanding," Shpielman said. "When I know I've helped people, it's amazing. They meet me in the streets and we remember each other. We help people realize their rights. Some people don't even know they have rights." In addition to the local offices - which, according to Aron, receive three-quarters of the service's users - ASC has a Web site that received over two million hits this year, as well as a telephone service. Aron hopes that in the future, the service can concentrate on expanding the Web site and making it more user-friendly. The phone service employs 22 workers, all of whom speak proficient English. The Web site, while translated into Russian and Arabic, is not yet available in English. Aron attributed that deficiency to budgetary concerns and said that ASC plans to translate the site within the year. "We're attuned to the needs of the populace," said Aron. "The need for our Web site grows year by year. I believe that we need to develop the site and finish the translation, to improve the search capability." In addition to attracting Israeli users, the site has received a large number of hits from users in Arab countries. Aron said that this was because for those users, this was the only site that can describe social services in Arabic. "There is no other site that's translated to Arabic that talks about civil rights, so many Arabic speakers want to know what goes on here," he said. "There's a great deal of interest in information about driving schools, and in why Arab rights aren't the same." While Aron hopes for the service to progress, he said that its development depends on the problems that face Israeli society. One issue that has been raised recently is the efficacy of the country's health care system. "The subject of health care changes all the time and we bring in specialists to teach the public what its rights are," said Aron. "Reality creates the issue and we go with it."