'Don't make poor pay for war,' social activists tell Olmert

Adva, the center for equality and social justice in Israel, called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week to make sure that society's weakest members do not end up paying the price for the war with Hizbullah this summer. The organization, whose activities include advocating policy changes favoring disadvantaged groups via consulting for non-profit organizations, cabinet members and legislators, sent out the letter just prior to Tuesday's cabinet meeting to vote on the proposed budget for 2007. "The budget that is being debated now is totally different to what we thought it was going to be two months ago," said Dr. Shlomo Swinski, Adva's academic director. "The war has changed the agenda. However, if we let the war change the agenda too much, then we are talking about long-term damage to welfare services, schools and basic health care." The budget debate lasted 12 hours and finally passed 19-4, with Defense Minister Amir Peretz abstaining. The four who voted against were Shas ministers, who said they would continue to oppose the budget unless more money was slated for social welfare. Adva's letter to Olmert, which was sent to all MKs, outlined two alternatives to cutting back on social welfare services, education and health in the budget. "If the government stops the decrease in income tax and hikes corporate taxes, it will not need to cut from the welfare, education and health budgets," explained Swinski, adding that he believed this would enable the government to find the NIS 8 billion it needs to support the massive defense part of the budget and take the pressure off other areas. "These are not just our ideas," continued Swinski. "They have been suggested by people such as Prof. Avi Ben-Bassat, professor of economics at Hebrew University and the director-general of the Finance Ministry under Ehud Barak; Prof. Avia Spivak, former senior deputy at the Bank of Israel; and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries chairman Eli Horovitz. Swinski said the letter had garnered a significant response from numerous MKs and that he was hopeful some of the suggestions might be adopted for the 2007 budget before it reached its final format.