Hilu: PM must appoint social affairs minister

MK Nadia Hilu (Labor) is demanding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appoint a social affairs minister immediately. She said the appointment must be "a necessary and obvious part" of the cabinet's decision, taken Wednesday, to reach the Litani River and expand the area and scope of the fighting in Lebanon. Acknowledging that she opposed this decision, Hilu told The Jerusalem Post that "even those in favor of the decision must realize that we cannot separate the fighting from its toll on the civilian population. As the fighting continues, the civilian population's needs become more acute, especially among the Arab population." Yesterday, Hilu released the results of a survey of the immediate needs of 12 Arab villages and towns in the North. "This study proves that the Katyushas do treat us, Arabs and Jews, equally, but the state does not," she said. The study, based on on-site assessments of each locality, was conducted by social workers from Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare, a non-governmental organization in which Hilu serves as a board member. Citing examples of the findings, Hilu said, "In Arab el-Aramsha, where a mother and her two daughters were killed, at least 50 residents are living in an unprotected school without food, water or electricity. In Deir el-Asad, where a mother and child were killed [on Thursday], the few shelters that are available don't even have water or lighting. "The state must not treat any of its citizens this way. The neglect is the responsibility of all of the governments, but now we are in a state of social emergency and this government, which promised a social agenda, must act." According to the survey, these villages require immediate allocations of NIS 135,000 to meet the immediate needs of the elderly, children and people with special needs or disabilities. "But Israel doesn't even have a social affairs minister to whom these people can turn," she said. Hilu is also calling for the establishment of a statutory authority for equality and integration. "The security of the State of Israel depends on the strength of its civilian population as much as on the strength of its army," she said. "The civilian population cannot be strong when there is discrimination and poverty." Saying she has the go-ahead from coalition heads and from her own party, Hilu has been meeting with the Knesset's legal advisers to prepare the necessary legislation, which she intends to have ready for first reading when the Knesset reconvenes in the fall. In a reference to Arab MK's from other parties, Hilu noted, "Many MKs from different parties oppose the war. But I also know the limitations of my position. Therefore, I do what I can for my constituency, the people who expect us to promote a social agenda and not just yell and scream about our opposition to the war."