MK Gila Gamliel: Helping seniors is Israel's 'moral commitment'

One of the important tenets of the Jewish faith is to take care of family members who are old and no longer able to tend to their needs, be they economic or other."

Member of Knesset Gila Gamliel (photo credit: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE)
Member of Knesset Gila Gamliel
The Ministry for Social Equality has multiple tasks, among which is promoting the well-being of senior citizens, youth, women and minorities. It is also in charge of Digital Israel, a program that is designed to help the population benefit from Israel’s being a hi-tech nation.
The senior citizen aspects of the ministry are growing in importance. As in all Western countries, the number of seniors is increasing rapidly both in numbers and as a percentage of the population as a whole. The rise in the standard of living among other things has decreased the birth rate, as couples are less interested in having large families. In addition, medical science is enabling people to live longer. The combination of a decreasing birth rate and increasing longevity is creating an increase in the number of seniors.
In Israel, 11% of the population is classified as seniors -- that is, over 67 for men and 62 for women. That is a total of some 880,000 people. By Western standards that percentage is considered low, but as Israel is a country that receives a large number of immigrants who are relatively young, the relative number of elderly people is kept low.
The government is well aware of the importance of seniors. About 15 years ago, the Israeli government created a special department to attend to the needs of seniors, with a deputy minister at its head. Today, the needs of senior citizens are met by the Ministry for Social Equality. It is headed by MK Gila Gamliel, a forceful personality with a reputation for pushing hard on issues she believes to be right. Since she believes there is a need to improve the situation of seniors, the elderly in Israel are lucky to have her on their side.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Gamliel expresses her views on how the government should make the life of seniors more pleasant.
"I consider that creating the conditions whereby older people can live comfortable lives free of economic anxiety is a moral commitment of the state. One of the important tenets of the Jewish faith is to take care of family members who are old and no longer able to tend to their needs, be they economic or other," she says.
Before we continue with the needs of seniors let me ask you a question about current matters. Despite the recent developments which prevented the collapse of the government, elections are up in the air, so to speak. How would you describe your past three years in office as minister of social equality?
Firstly, let me say that I have reason to believe that the government will remain in office until the next elections in November of next year. The elections will not be held before their time.
With regard to my three years in office, I can say that we have achieved a lot. The creation of a ministry for social equality was a historic event. For the first time since the creation of the state, a government acknowledged the importance of social equality and made it one of its strategic commitments. The Likud party to which I belong is a passionate believer in the need for social equality, the need to decrease the socioeconomic gap in our society. The creation of the Ministry for Social Equality means that for the first time, the struggle for social equality has passed from the realm of semantics to the realm of reality.
The ministry is in charge of the Digital Israel program. The program has very important social repercussions because it will make the benefits of Israel’s hi-tech industry available to all. Within this framework, we are promoting education in peripheral areas so that the underprivileged youth both from the geographic and social periphery will receive the education necessary to make them eligible to participate in the hi-tech labor market. This also includes the youth of the Arab minority.
With regard to the senior population, we have a comprehensive program to improve the wellbeing of seniors. This includes, among other things,  Tipat Zahav (Golden Drops). It is the seniors’ version of the Tipat Halav centers for nursing mothers. At Tipat Zahav, seniors can obtain information relevant to their needs, as well as assistance. We have set up eight such centers on a pilot basis, and the plan is to establish such centers all over the country.
We also have a call center at telephone number *8840, where seniors can receive all the necessary information about the rights and benefits to which they are entitled. This is a very important service. In 2017, the legal benefits to which seniors are entitled was increased by NIS 30 million.
We are also heavily involved in bringing the Digital Age to seniors so that they can avail themselves of all its benefits. In collaboration with the Bank of Israel, we have a program whereby seniors are taught the ins and outs of digital banking.
Loneliness is one of the major problems of seniors. In that regard, we have an annual budget of NIS 90 million for the Shleikes Plus Club, where seniors can obtain subsidized tickets for cinemas, theaters and other cultural activities. In addition, members of the club are privy to special subsidized shopping events.
I mentioned earlier the need of seniors to participate in the Digital Age. The Digital Age has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is the ease with which seniors can be scammed, especially when making purchases online and paying by credit card.  I will try to put an end or at least minimize these criminal activities. I recently allocated NIS 15 million to find ways to combat the scamming of seniors. I strongly believe that these shameful practices must be stopped.
You sound very passionate about this issue. 
I certainly am. I regard this as one of the most important issues that must be dealt with. Today, the victims are our parents and grandparents. If we do not put a stop to these practices, tomorrow it will be our turn; and later, that of our children and grandchildren.
The University of Haifa did a survey on this issue and found that 47% of all seniors have at one time or another experienced a scam; 30% reported that they were talked into buying goods that were overly expensive; and 25% reported that they were coerced into buying things that they neither wanted nor needed.
Do you know what that means? It means that half the senior population of Israel have at one time or another been manipulated in making purchases they didn’t need. In my opinion, that is as close as it gets to legalized robbery. We are making it our business to remove the ‘legal’ aspect from the equation.
As a minister, a member of the executive branch of the government, I cannot continue to let this happen. And as a human being, I cannot understand how people can so easily forget the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” — Exodus 20:12 (NIV).
Unfortunately. these practices are very widespread. What, in your opinion, are the reasons?
For one thing, the ease with which they can be perpetrated and the fact that they are legal and lucrative. It is easy to phone some senior who may be lonely and thirsting for human contact and comfort, even via a phone call. From there, the road to talking someone into making an unnecessary purchase and obtaining his/her credit details is simple and straightforward.
These are usually greasy, smart, fast-talking men and women who are employed in telemarketing companies. The contributing factors to these practices are the way commerce is developing, especially online commerce, the increase in credit card ownership and a combination of the two.
You said that as a member of the executive branch, you intend to try to put a stop to these practices. How? They are very well ingrained. Is it perhaps wishful thinking on your part?
No, it is not. Furthermore, we are beyond the intentional phase. We are now in the phase of planning and execution, for which I have allocated NIS 15 million. During the past month, experts in the ministry have been formulating the necessary plans. They are based on the seniors’ realizing that they are not alone in this problem because it is the problem of our society as a whole. And, as such, I am generating backing from the government and from the private sector.
On this issue I have recently met with representatives of banking, credit card companies and cellular phone companies which make these practices possible. I can now say that these three bodies agree wholeheartedly in finding ways to prevent such practices whenever possible. Last week, Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen agreed to cooperate within the framework of the Consumer Protection Authority in his ministry.
It all means that we are on the right road to tackling this pressing problem. And we will soon have a legislation bill prepared to bring to the government. The bill will be four-pronged: compensation for the victims; the means by which credit card companies can deal with the scammers; harsh exemplary punishments; and increased public awareness.
I believe that when they are legislated, these measures will have a very strong effect on the companies or individuals that are scamming consumers.
In what way will credit card companies be able to deal with these problems? What do you mean by harsh exemplary punishments? And how will the victims be compensated?
With regard to the new legislation we are promoting, the credit card companies will be able to halt clearing operations for those convicted or those who are suspected of scamming. In extreme cases, they will be banned from the further use of credit card facilities.
With regard to punishments, in the bill we are submitting to the government, those breaking the law will be liable to a prison sentence of up to five years. Furthermore, not only those making the ‘sale’ will be liable for punishment but also the senior executives of the companies convicted of scamming seniors.
The victims will receive monetary compensation. But for this law to be effective, we need the cooperation of the seniors affected because it is they and only they who will have to sue their scammers.