The monthly update for our most dedicated supporters from Gidi Kroch
The Cost of Democracy
In January 2020, as a result of the political instability in Israel, the government went into a period of 1/12 which means there was an inability to increase the 2019 budget. Because of this, the program for food security which fed 10,800 families in Israel, was forced to close. One of the well known facts about the Israeli government, is that a significant portion of the budget is comprised of additional agreements that the government signs with outside organizations. Unfortunately, these agreements are external to the budget, meaning that once the government started working on 1/12 basis, these programs lost their funding and ceased to operate.
One of these programs, that is no longer receiving government funding, is the “Government Initiative for Food Security”. This project, which was supported by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and a partnership between Leket Israel and Eshel Jerusalem, provided magnetic cards and food parcels to 10,800 of the poorest Israeli families over the past two years. From one day to the next, 10,800 families were left stranded.
When a family is only earning NIS 5,000 (USD $1,462) a month, every shekel counts. The Initiative supported these families by providing them with NIS 250 on a card, NIS 125 of packaged goods and NIS 125 of fresh rescued produce (supplied by Leket). Although all parties involved wanted the initiative to continue, legally there was no way the government could allocate the funds, or so they said. This created an incomprehensible situation where some Israeli citizens paid a heavier price for democracy than others.
Discussions with the government led nowhere and it seemed that the program would need to wait for the elections before something would happen. We found this to be completely unacceptable. To counter this, Leket joined forces with a number of other social organizations from different communities throughout Israel and initiated a public campaign. Mazon, a Jewish advocacy organization who fights against hunger and poverty in the US and Israel, was instrumental in moving this coalition forward and creating media opportunities. Leket Israel pushed this issue both in the media and in the government. These efforts reaped tremendous media coverage in many outlets, both in Israel and abroad. On the political side, Leket strongly encouraged the politicians to challenge MK Gafni, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, to convene a special meeting of the committee to discuss this specific topic. Leket’s partner Eshel Jerusalem, who managed the food security initiative (they won the tender in 2017), delicately persuaded the professionals at the ministries.
In the end, MK Gafni conceded and assembled a meeting of the Finance Committee where serious pressure was applied on the representatives of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Welfare to find a solution. The meeting was attended by 20 Knesset Members and many social organizations. I discussed the cost of democracy that fell on the poor, as well as questioned the notion that nonprofits are able to find the funding for the program while the government cannot. My comments were well received and applauded by the MKs. But most importantly, the pressure the committee put on the ministries bared fruit and the initiative will be resuming this month.
So why is this worth mentioning? (a) Leket policy is that we will not lead a food insecurity campaign but we will join one when it happens. As it happened in this situation, we joined the coalition Mazon created and did our part by using our connections and creating a media buzz; (b) The PR gained through this opportunity and the chance to have the Leket story splashed on front pages of leading Israeli newspapers and throughout digital media, was worth the effort we put into it; (c) We care deeply about the people we serve and could not stand idly by while others try and solve the problem; (d) Leket is a partner in the initiative. We supply the fresh produce to families all over Israel and it is important for us to continue doing so; (e) The experience and familiarity of working together as a coalition holds future benefits and we will utilize it to further food rescue in the future.
I hope that this important initiative will continue and will grow. Because of this campaign, the coalition now wants to have this program incorporated into the core of the budget so if this situation ever arises again in the future, there will not be Israeli citizens who have to suffer as a result of democracy.