Yedid: Budget cuts are "dirty trick" which will only hurt society's weakest people.
By RUTH EGLASH
Non-government organizations working with Israel's poorest and weakest communities on Tuesday decried the promise made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to add NIS 1.9 billion to the 2007 military budget at the expense of other ministries, especially those responsible for social welfare.
"There is enough money in the pot to ensure the social welfare and education budgets do not get cut," commented Ran Melamed, deputy director of social policy and communication for Yedid, the association for community empowerment. "It is another dirty trick by the Finance Ministry; I just hope that the Knesset will stop these cutbacks because they will only further hurt society's weakest people."
On Monday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz warned that if the defense budget was not increased then there would be no choice but to reduce the IDF's manpower. He also said that defense and social spending should not be considered mutually exclusive.
Olmert's agreement to increase defense spending would most likely result in significant cutbacks to other ministries, said treasury sources. The Knesset is expected to approve the budget by the December 31 deadline.
Eran Weintraub, director of humanitarian aid organization Latet, told The Jerusalem Post that the message being sent by Olmert and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson was that the 1.7 million Israeli citizens living under the poverty line "should manage on your own, we do not care about you."
Latet made another plea to the government to immediately set up a national program that would help in the battle against poverty and allocate NIS 10 million to reduce the problem over the next five years.
On Tuesday, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel published its Israel Social Services 2006 report, calling on the country's policy makers to put more emphasis on its social policy.
The center's director Yaakov Kop said both the public and politicians had begun to put more emphasis on social welfare but that this past summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah in Lebanon had swung the focus back to the issue of security.
He noted that in a survey carried out by the center in September, 88 percent of the general population called for the social welfare budget to be expanded and 66% said they were against cutbacks of social benefits for the purpose of expanding the defense budget.
"The government's expenditure on defense did not directly affect the results of this summer's war," said Kop, adding that while the gaps in equipment and ammunition caused by the war certainly needed to be filled, the government also needed to repair the country's social fabric.
"We hope there will not be another war but if there is and it extends to the whole country, what will we do?" he asked.
"Just prior to the elections, the public seemed to understand that there was an urgent need to strengthen the country's social fabric. What happened this summer put us a little off track and we need to return in the proper way," added Kop. "There does not need to be a trade-off between security and society."
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