Despite the alleged groundbreaking agreement to allocate another NIS 4.2 billion shekels towards the already existing disability allowance budget over the course of four years, members representing some of the 244,000 disabled people in Israel are still unsatisfied.
On Sunday evening disabled protestors demonstrated outside the private home of Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan and voiced their anger, calling him “a corrupt liar,” and asking him to “come down here and tell us [the truth] to our face.”
The agreement was reached on September 29th between Histadrut (General Organization of Workers in Israel) chairperson Avi Nissenkorn, Coalition chairman MK David Bitan, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Following months of dozens of organized road blocking demonstrations throughout the country to draw attention to the lack of funds towards the disabled.
The “Disabled are Becoming Panthers” group was not included in the negotiations in which the agreement was agreed upon. Noemi Muravia, who serves as the chairperson for disabled struggle, criticized the other activists group’s refusal to accept the agreement.
“Under the existing conditions this is the best agreement that could be reached,” she stated, “those who chose the time of the negotiations to block roads and not send a representative [to them] can only blame themselves.”
The agreement that was reached details an increase of the existing disability pension in proportion to the severity of the disability, with those with the most debilitating disabilities to receive 4,500 NIS per month.
However, this did not stop the demonstrations, as the group “Disabled are Becoming Panthers” blocked two roadways in Tel Aviv and Rishon Lezion on Sunday.
Lavi Naor, a spokesman for the group, expressed his frustration for the agreement and told the Jerusalem Post: “We are fighting for the minimum wage. This agreement will not work for us. Nobody invited us to speak on our behalf and we will not stop until we get [the] minimum, we will continue to fight”
The addition of this sum is to be completed by 2021 starting with the first allocation of NIS 1.3 billion on January 1, 2018.
The minimum wage in Israel will also be taken into consideration when disability pensions are calculated and included in the budget of the state of Israel.
Disabled people will not lose their pensions if they earn more than 2,800 NIS as they do today. Instead, the sum will be increased to 4,300 NIS, enabling disabled people who can work to earn money while still receiving state support.
The government agreed that if this change proves beneficial, it will lift the salary cap even further to 5,300 nis.
Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan hailed this as a meaningful victory that not only serves those unable to work, but also children: “The agreement constitutes a real message to the disabled, it is an achievement that raises disability allowances and enables disabled people to return to earning a decent living without losing the disability pension.”
Bitan added: “Another important element is that we added a budget of NIS 150 million to disabled children. Nothing is more important and more just than this agreement that we reached, and on the eve of Yom Kippur it becomes even more important when a population so in need of assistance will receive it after more than 15 years.”
Chairman of the Histadrut, Avi Nissenkoern said: “We have made social history in the State of Israel. We have dramatically improved the economic situation of the disabled population. I would like to thank Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and coalition chairman MK David Bitan, for Professor Avi Simhon on behalf of the Prime Minister and for initiating the bill, MK Ilan Gal-On, who made every effort to reach the historic agreement on the eve of Yom Kippur. The organizations of the disabled demonstrated determination and responsibility in their struggle for social justice. “
Cobi Cohen, CEO of the Action Society of the Disabled is disappointed with this agreement stating that disabled Israelis are still going to be stuck in a cycle of poverty.
His group was also not included in the preliminary talks leading up to the agreement and expresses his dissatisfaction with this agreement, particularly regarding losing track of the main goal of ensuring an allowance of the current minimum wage of NIS 5000 : “The disabled are not getting the minimum wage. Not now and not in the future” Cohen adds: “We are still living in poverty and we will continue to be in poverty for the next four years and nobody is taking inflation into consideration either.”
“Why is the media spinning this to make it sound like a victory? Every year the government says: ‘we don’t have enough money, but they always end the years with a surplus with 10 billion or more, November they ended the year with 32+ billion nis, where is the rest of the money?” Cohen said.
Cohen is also concerned about inflation: “nobody will know what happens next year, NIS 4,500 is the maximum and in 2021, nobody will know what the situation is and nothing is guaranteed.”
Angered at not being included in these talks he adds: “They just took ‘yes men’ and this is approach is worse than dividing us”
Although Action Society of the Disabled’s approach is less aggressive than those groups responsible for the roadblocks, he did say that they are organizing a demonstration on the 16th on Rabin Square together with several other groups.
On the contrary, members of “Disabled is not a half person” sees this agreement as an important victory but is aware that the struggle will continue.
CEO, Hanan Tal told the Post that the agreement is far from perfect but he and his group accept that this is the most they could have gotten from the government: “to get 1.5% of the Israeli budget is really a great start.”
Tal noted that since the addition of Histadrut Chairman, Avi Nissenkoren in early September, this is the fastest victory in the history of the Histadrut.”
In response to the continuing protests, he explains:” I understand their frustration and I know the people protesting and unfortunately, they don’t really understand what is actually going on.”
“We won the battle, but the war wages on. But for the moment, we should be happy for what we got and we will keep fighting for many many more things: for accessibility, promoting jobs and more.” Said Tal
Tal adds: “Now the public knows about disabled people, to create a more accepting and accessible environment, people will have more ways to execute their rights for what they want.”
Making clear that he and the rest of the disabled groups will not back down following this agreement, Tal concludes: “the struggle is far from over, we will continue to fight for our original goal and we will keep fighting until we get the minimum wage.”
MAARIV ONLINE and HAGAY HACOHEN contributed to this story