Kahlon stands by attack on food aid sector

Welfare minister slams "degrading" policies of food aid charities; NGOs say minister is out of touch, comments were uncalled for.

FILLING BOXES with basic food staples for the needy 311 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
FILLING BOXES with basic food staples for the needy 311
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash)
Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon stood by his negative comments toward the country’s food aid sector on Tuesday, adding that unless charities are willing to change the way they distribute food to the needy, they will not get the chance to partner with the government in the future.
Speaking at a press conference where he launched a new ministry initiative of ‘credit cards’ for some 32,000 families of low socioeconomic status, the minister said that the system of food aid distribution, which traditionally includes baskets of goods, had to “disappear.”
“I am against photographing the needy as they come to collect their food baskets,” stated Kahlon, who on Monday directly attacked the more than- 200 non-profit organizations that distribute food to the needy.
He claimed that most used their distribution activities as photo opportunities in order to solicit donations, reducing the dignity of those in need.
Kahlon also said on Tuesday that from now on, charities working with the needy would have to prove they do not use humiliating distribution methods if they want to work with the government.
In an interview with Army Radio on Monday, Kahlon, who became minister just over a year ago, said that he was against the method of “throwing boxes of food at the poor” and accused charities of using holidays such as Passover to take photos of those in need standing in line, merely for PR purposes.
He also harshly criticized charity officials for drawing high salaries and said it was time for the government to significantly reduce the number of NGOs working in the sector.
Under the ministry’s new initiative, which includes a significant financial contribution from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the ministry will hand out some NIS 12.3-million worth of food aid vouchers with values of up to NIS 500 depending on family size especially for the Passover holiday.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and executive director of the IFCJ, said that it had been working with the system of vouchers for a few years already and that it was essential “the needy had a sense of anonymity.”
However, he added, “it is not just a question of how to distribute food ahead of the holidays but more how Israeli citizens are taken care of throughout the year. It is a terrible shame that elderly people, Holocaust survivors, are forced to choose between purchasing their medicines and food.”
In response to Kahlon’s comments, a throng of non-profits released statements Tuesday attacking the minister and accusing him of being out of touch with how most food aid charities operate today.
“What message is he trying to send exactly?” asked Eran Weintraub, director of Latet, one of the country’s biggest aid charities.
“There are people who are working night and day to help the needy and instead of taking the time to thank them for their contribution, he attacks them! It’s a scandal.”
Weintraub accused Kahlon of being out of touch with methods used today by most non-profits working with the needy. He highlighted that most charities have a code of ethics and that many food parcels were delivered directly to people’s doors.
“I don’t know, perhaps he had some bad experiences as a child,” said Weintraub, referring to the fact the minister comes from a family that experienced economic hardships.
“But I can tell you that he has most likely not been in the field for many years because today we have an ethical code that is applied to food distribution and the packages are given out with respect.”
The Latet director said that instead of the government developing a national plan to tackle what he says are among “the highest poverty rates in Europe,” non-profit organizations are forced to help the estimated 220,000 needy families in Israel.
“We have been trying to get the government to take more responsibility on this and if they were to take up the challenge of helping the poor. then we would stop our work tomorrow,” he said, adding that Kahlon’s comments were just populistic and designed to get him attention in the media.
“How comes we never see Kahlon volunteering? He earns more than NIS 50,000 a month!” said Weintraub, adding, “We have a government with 39 ministers and only one dealing with social issues part-time.
That shows exactly [what] the state’s attitude to poverty is.”
Meir Panim’s director Rachel Evenbaum called Kahlon’s comments “cynical” and pointed out that of course it was unacceptable for any organization to use images of the needy to raise money. She also said that her organization has been using the system of credit cards for more than three years.
One non-profit organization, however, welcomed Kahlon’s words and took it one step further by saying that food distribution does little to help poor families in the long-term.
Uriel Lederberg, director of Pa’amonim, which teaches families with financial problems to budget, said that the long-term solution was to educate those in need, as well as others, how not to enter the cycle of poverty.
“I know there are many families in need of food on the holidays and helping them is a blessing but it is more important to teach families in need how to make sound economic decisions,” he said. “That would be a better solution so that we will see less needy families next Passover.”