Latet: Charities should not be doing state's job

The organization said the state needs to replace the voluntary org. that provides food 11 percent of the population.

soup kitchen food 298 (photo credit: Revital Aranbaev)
soup kitchen food 298
(photo credit: Revital Aranbaev)
The state should take responsibility for feeding the poor, which is what the philanthropic organization Latet did in the North during last summer's war in Lebanon, Gilles Darmon, the founder of the organization, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday. Latet petitioned the High Court of Justice over the weekend, demanding the state take over from more than 200 voluntary organizations that provide food for 200,000 families, 11 percent of the population. "Minimal nutritional security is a constitutional right of the citizens of the state who are in need of it," Latet's attorney, Michael Bach, wrote in the petition. "It is not the responsibility of the hundreds of voluntary nongovernmental organizations, funded by private donors and supported by thousands of volunteers, to look after the minimal nutritional security of so many Israelis." Darmon said he had been considering filing the petition for two years. The second Lebanese war, he said, was the straw that broke the camel's back, when Latet found itself providing food for civilians in the North. "Most of the local nonprofit organizations along the confrontation line closed down," Darmon said. "We organized convoys of volunteers with food and equipment that left from the center of the country every day of the war. There were at least 80 volunteers per day and 20 to 30 vehicles, including a semitrailer that stopped at every shelter to distribute food to the needy." Latet was founded almost 10 years ago. It runs many projects, including providing international assistance. When it began to provide food for local charities, it thought this was a stop-gap measure. "We have been involved with food distribution for almost 10 years," Darmon said. "One of the reasons we got involved was because we considered food as one of the most basic issues. At first we regarded our activities as a partial contribution meant to complement the government's activities, or one meant to raise public awareness of the problem, not one that was meant to cope head-on with the problem. "Slowly, we found ourselves in a situation we did not want to be in, when the pressure in Israeli society regarding survival falls on the shoulders of the 'third sector.'" Five years ago, Latet was supplying local charitable organizations and soup kitchens with 500 tons of food per year, Darmon said. Last year, it provided 3,000 tons. In the last five years, the number of soup kitchens has increased significantly. But the number of needy families has reached a critical mass, he said, adding that many soup kitchens say they cannot handle the growing demand and may have to close. Darmon said this situation has developed because the government abdicated its responsibility. "The state has effectively implemented an illegal, indirect privatization, or privatization by default, by transferring responsibility for supplying food to the needy to private NGO's," he said. "There is no supervision over how the food is distributed or its quality, and the system violates the principle of equality and the principle of just distribution." The situation is highly convenient for the state, Bach wrote in the petition. Not only do the philanthropic organizations perform the state's job, but the state and the local governments derive income from them by charging taxes, realty taxes and employers' fees. According to the petition, the cost of the food provided by the philanthropic organizations amounts to NIS 200 million annually, or .07 percent of the current budget. Even if the government supplied the true nutritional needs of the poor, it would cost only NIS 720m., the petitioners wrote.