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Food Security in Israel: Government Has the Responsibility
Starvation does not exist in Israel. Nevertheless, almost one-fifth of the population is hungry, and this statistic is even more disturbing in light of the fact that the Israeli government in recent years has done everything in its power to avoid taking responsibility for the food security of its citizens.
A hopeful sign, though, is the recently announced plan by the Minister of Welfare and the prime minister to set aside $25 million for food for children and the elderly. A number of nonprofits, among them the one I¿direct, YEDID, were the catalyst for this historic move.
More, of course, needs to be done.
In the past two years, the focus has been on the development of tools that will lead to the creation of solutions addressing not only food distribution but also the development of jobs for the disadvantaged populations on the periphery of Israel and in distressed neighborhoods of its cities and towns.
The government has begun to understand that it can no longer shirk its duty. Social service organizations have finally realized that just distributing food is not the best solution. There are better ways to feed the hungry that can also preserve the needy person's self-respect -- in particular, the distribution of special food cards.
Following an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court Justice, the government published a special report that set its level of responsibility for the first time. Actualizing the report's conclusions are at the forefront of the present struggle between the government and a coalition of civil society organizations headed by YEDID whose goal is to establish, once and for all, the government's responsibility for the food security of its citizens.
The essence of the argument is not only about responsibility but also of money. Larger estimates point to a budget of $160-$210 million a year. Lower estimates point to $13 million. YEDID has calculated that at least $53 million is required to reasonably resolve the problem for most of the needy population. A portion of this population will not be recognized by the government and will have to continue to receive assistance from organizations in the private sector.
YEDID recently published a plan for dealing with food insecurity. The following are a few of the principles outlined in the plan: establishing a package of solutions for the entire adult and juvenile population; creating a National Council for Food Security to be the government policy tool; finding solutions for children in the formal and informal education system; and prioritizing the subject of food security as a means to expand employment among disadvantaged populations and small businesses on the local and regional levels.
YEDID is the force behind the Welfare Ministry's National Council for Food Security, which will act to create a policy for resolving the food problem in Israel. It will determine a package of possible solutions, create a budget for them and then work to implement them.
YEDID is advancing a series of four laws in the Knesset that will widen the scope of the existing school nutrition program. They call for:¿expanding the universal "hot meal program" to all elementary schools in Israel, including recognized non-government schools; introducing the hot meals project in middle schools; implementing the breakfast law, which will ensure that schools not supplying hot lunches, primarily high schools, will provide breakfast; and facilitating the "Meals on Vacation" bill, which will make certain that children from low-income families receive hot meals during the long summer break as well as during Passover, Sukkot and Chanukah vacations.
YEDID's strategic plan deals with more than direct food provision. In cooperation with other nonprofit organizations such as Shatil, Agik and the Center for Nutritional Security at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, YEDID helped present a bill that will give preference to small businesses, cooperatives, and local community organizations bidding in government and municipal tenders for food provision services.
In the coming years, the government's involvement in food security will grow and budgets will increase accordingly. Gradually, new solutions and services will be developed to replace the massive distribution of food packages to needy people who, in the past, were forced to stand in long lines.
Sari Revkin lobbies for social change in Israel at the helm of YEDID.