Knesset takes a day to plan an end to poverty

Knesset takes a day to p

The Knesset took a break from political rivalries and diplomatic debate on Tuesday to mark - albeit a month late - the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. A series of committee meetings took place, as well as a plenum discussion and a central gathering meant to raise awareness among MKs regarding the many facets of poverty in Israel. A number of panels, including the Committee for the Rights of the Child, the Finance Committee and the Immigration and Absorption Committee, held hearings addressing aspects of poverty and ways that the Knesset could address them. This was the first time that the legislature marked the international day, and in honor of the session, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his greetings through UN Envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry, who opened the central meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Serry told the 15 gathered MKs, as well as dozens of other attendees, that Ban congratulated the Knesset on joining other world parliaments in recognizing the importance of combating poverty. The conference's organizers - the Forum for Recognizing the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty - said that they were happy that 15 lawmakers, representing a wide range of political parties, made a point of attending the entire meeting, and highlighted the important role taken by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) in helping to organize the day. Conference organizers emphasized the value of bringing Israel's poor into the Knesset building, and enabling MKs to come face-to-face with poverty. NGOs including Shatil, the Organization for Housing Rights, the Israeli Center for Social Justice and legislators including Eitan Cabel and Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, both from Labor, stressed that poverty was not just a result of unemployment. "Encouraging employment is no longer relevant for the fight against poverty, since nearly half of the families that are now below the poverty line are working families," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said. "The focus must move to reducing the burden, and thus we must not place additional financial burdens on the lowest percentiles such as the increase in water and electric prices," added Rivlin, warning against the imposition of regressive taxes that disproportionately impact the poor. Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) suggested - citing the example of the recent debate over the Drought Levy - that every bill brought for a vote should undergo a special review to analyze its impact on the poorest sectors. According to data presented in the recent Poverty Report, one in five families and one in three children live in poverty. Participation in the workforce is among the lowest in the Western world, while the poverty rate is among the highest among developed countries. The MKs who participated in the meeting also agreed to set up a steering committee to formulate legislation to encourage an overall reduction in poverty in Israel.