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November 25, 2014 7:02 pm

New Israel Poverty Poll: 95% Pessimistic About Coming Year

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Poverty-in-Jerusalem: Food donation stations. Photo: Dave Bender.

Poverty-in-Jerusalem: Food donation stations. Photo: Dave Bender.

A new poll on poverty in Israel charges that “despair and anger” among the country’s Jewish population are rife, and even more worrying, that one in four is weighing suicide as a way out.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that the 500 men and women sampled portray a “start-up nation” that is leaving many behind.

“Israel is at the bottom of the OECD’s [international Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development] list of countries in the developed world,” he pointed out.

The Jewish state’s 20.9 percent poverty rate – according to OECD figures – is almost double the 11.3% average.

Eckstein said that, while the IFCJ raises some $150 million annually for social welfare assistance, help for the elderly, for soldiers and others, the government has to step in and do more to alleviate the predicament of those suffering below the poverty line.

The Shivuk-Panorama telephone survey, taken between November 16th and the 21st, contacted slightly more men than women (51.4 to 48.6 percent), who were predominantly between the ages of 40 to 59 (37.2%), and has a 4.5% error margin. 33.8% were between 18 and 39, and 29% were over 60.

Eckstein noted that the poll was taken among Jews only, in order not to sway the results by including the traditionally lagging Arab sector.

Among respondents, 28.2% percent defined themselves as “secular,” 34.6% as “traditional,” 14% as “religious,” and 23.2% as “haredi.”

Major findings included in the poll indicated that “82% of those in poverty feel the state doesn’t care about them, 40% do not feel a part of Israeli society,” and a worrying “95% are pessimistic about their chances of escaping poverty.”

“One in four people knows someone close to them who has considered suicide due to their economic situation,” according to Eckstein, and the figures cited in the survey bear out simmering frustration over the situation, with a startling 33% “willing to take part in protests, block roads and burn tires to protest against their economic situation.”

Fifteen percent said theft was a justified method of acquiring basic goods for poor families, with an equal percentage indicating that they supported “threatening behavior towards public officials in the Knesset and government to ensure they work more effectively to change the situation.

Even more worrying, 5% justified “the use of weapons to force someone to act more effectively to change the situation for those living in poverty in Israel.”

Among the most significant findings:

  • 61% of those living in poverty said their situation had worsened in the past year.
  • 95% of those living in poverty are pessimistic about the coming year.
  • 25% of those living in poverty are close to someone who considered suicide because of their economic situation.

Noting the disparities, Eckstein said in a statement that “a situation whereby 95% are pessimistic about the coming year is a dangerous one.”

When queried about feelings of “detachment from society and government,” 82% said they felt “that the government doesn’t care about people living in poverty,” 61% have lost faith in government institutions (including the Government, Knesset, and Judiciary), and a majority do not plan to vote in the next elections.

Forty percent said they “do not feel a part of Israeli society,” and an equal percentage “are willing to send their children to serve in the IDF.”

The findings tally with a Central Bureau of Statistics figures in late October, which revealed that about 725,000 Israelis – among them 29 percent of Israeli Arabs and 12 percent of Jews – define themselves as poor.

Thirty percent are at risk of poverty – almost double the 17 percent in comparative statistics from Europe, according to the report.

“What we’ve see in the last few years is a very, very stark increase in the number of working poor,” Deena Fiedler of Leket, a decade-old umbrella organization which serves as as the nation’s largest food bank and food rescue service, told The Algemeiner.

Fiedler’s warning, that “in the past, when people thought of poverty in Israel, they mostly thought of the Arab and Charedi communities,” a sentiment that coincided with Eckstein’s findings.

“But there’s been a big increase in the number of functional families, where both the husband and wife hold jobs, except that the cost of living in Israel has gone up so drastically, that on the wages that they make, they can’t put food on the table,” Fiedler said.

Eckstein said the poll “presents a shocking picture of social division between two groups in Israel society,” and added that “without swift and effective action by the state, organizations like ours, are forced to step in. The Fellowship alone will provide a quarter of a billion shekels to help hundreds of thousands of elderly people and families with children who live in poverty.”

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