Food insecurity and the state budget: Is the right to have food political?

Out of the total NIS 480 billion budget, not one shekel was apportioned to address food insecurity, meaning food for people in need.

AN ELDERLY man searches through a garbage can in Jerusalem in 2017. (photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
AN ELDERLY man searches through a garbage can in Jerusalem in 2017.
(photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
For the past two years, the State of Israel has been operating without an approved state budget. However, this did not prevent Finance Minister Israel Katz from announcing this week that in December 2020 a budget would be approved for the final eight days of the year. In addition, he announced that the budget discussions for 2021 would only begin three months into the year, in March 2021.
The state budget is meant to examine the needs of the public, represented by the various ministries, and to distribute the funds in the most equitable manner. In the face of a political crisis, the state budget continues to chart the path and the funds that are approved will continue to be released. It is no secret that in Israel, a country rife with political crises, the budgeted funds are not distributed equally. For this reason, food insecurity has long been neglected and has had insufficient resources allocated to it at the core of the state’s budget. 
In fact, out of the total NIS 480 billion budget, not one shekel was apportioned to address food insecurity, meaning food for people in need. The only funds available are from additional budgets that are not carried over from year to year. Even so, the amount allocated is a woefully inadequate at NIS 60 million. This is what happens when no state budget is approved for two years.
According to the 2018 National Insurance Institute Report, 469,400 families in Israel, including 841,700 children, have been living with food insecurity, meaning they do not know where their next meals are coming from. This number has increased significantly because of the global health and economic crisis plaguing the country as many new families have joined the circle of poverty.
Without adequate nutrition, a person cannot function properly, carry on a normal routine, concentrate at work, study in school or develop properly. Many studies show a direct link between food insecurity and a range of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, depression and more. Additionally, we have learned that poor health increases the chances of contracting the coronavirus and developing more severe symptoms.
The finance minister’s announcement came out the same week that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN World Food Program, which combats global hunger and provides humanitarian aid to people facing severe hunger worldwide. These simultaneous announcements only highlight the Israeli government’s lack of understanding of the importance of food insecurity, shows its absence of a long-term vision on this issue, and only emphasizes the critical need of the government’s role in providing aid to those in need.
THE STATE of Israel appears to be ignoring the magnitude of this issue, the number of people currently living under the poverty line, the number of children who go to bed hungry, and the fact that this has a direct impact on the functionality of its citizens and thereby the economy. When a problem is ignored, it does not go away, it only grows. World Food Day is this Friday, October 16, and is yet another reminder how crucial is it for our society to recognize and support the populations suffering from food insecurity, especially at a time like this when unfortunately, the numbers are growing every day.
Today, the only ones addressing the food insecurity crisis and taking care of the families in need are the hundreds of food aid organizations, the general public, the farmers and the food service industry who rescue and donate food. Food aid organizations serve as an executive arm of the government without any official government recognition or assistance. I was recently asked what would happen if a food aid organization would stop working for one week. I refuse to even imagine what a horrific crisis that would cause.
Around the world, other countries have acknowledged the critical nature of this crisis and have stepped up. In the United States and Australia, huge sums of money were approved and distributed, some of it earmarked specifically for food aid and welfare for the underprivileged. In Belgium, there is a government budget dedicated to food aid organizations. In Australia, the government has doubled its unemployment benefits, and in other countries such as England and Germany, consideration has been given to help limit the number of unemployed citizens and bring others back to work.
Now, more than ever, the State of Israel and its leaders, must come to their senses and understand the criticality of addressing food insecurity both for the under-privileged populations and for the economy. The state must begin allocating adequate resources and affix them in the national budget’s base so that it does not fall to the whims of political situations or national crises. It is only then that hundreds of thousands of families and children in Israel will be able to go to bed adequately fed and be able to lead normative, healthy lives and empower the welfare services to be partners in driving the economy instead of burdening them.
The writer is the CEO of Leket Israel.