Thursday, June 18, 2015
Israel’s poor getting poorer, income gap among largest in developed world – study
Published time: June 18, 2015 14:00
Reuters / Ronen Zvulun
Israel remains among the poorest performing countries in terms of economic equality, while poverty depth, that is how poor the poor are, has worsened, a new study says. A big cutback in government social welfare programs is one of the causes.
The study of Israel’s economic life, “A Picture of the Nation 2015,” waspublished Thursday by the Jerusalem-based Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. The study compared Israeli numbers to those of other 33 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
In terms of inequality, Israel remains among the worst in the OECD, the report said. It is on par with the US and bests only Mexico in this regard. The Taub Center’s researchers blame demographic differences, large income gaps in the labor market, and the low effectiveness of the governmental social programs for the situation.
The income gap was pushed wider by how Israelis own real estate and pay rent, with the wealthier segments of society getting most of the rental income. The richest 20 percent receive twice as much from rent as the 80 percent does.
The inequality problem seems to be improving over time, but “poverty depth,” an indicator of how deep below the poverty line the poor are, is getting worse, the study showed. The average income of poor families was 26 percent lower than the poverty line in 1992, but by 2010 poor families’ incomes had plunged to 31 percentage points lower.
On the other hand, the poorest Israeli workers saw their wages grow faster than their more wealthy counterparts, apparently due to a raise in the minimum wage.
The study also said Israeli food producers are protected from foreign competition by trade barriers and can get high prices for their products, as indicated by import share on the market. The healthcare system is experiencing a serious crisis, with public expenditure low relative to other OECD countries.
A greater share of Israeli students now excels than in previous years, but the worst-performing are still relatively more plentiful than the OECD average. The share of poorly performing students is decreasing, the study said.
PAUL ROBESON, a brief biography
Born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Robeson was the youngest of five children. His father was a runaway slave who went on to graduate from Lincoln University, and his mother came from an abolitionist Quaker family. Robeson's family knew both hardship and the determination to rise above it. His own life was no less challenging.
In 1915, Paul Robeson won a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers University. Despite violence and racism from teammates, he won 15 varsity letters in sports (baseball, basketball, track) and was twice named to the All-American Football Team. He received the Phi Beta Kappa key in his junior year, belonged to the Cap & Skull Honor Society, and graduated as Valedictorian. However, it wasn't until 1995, 19 years after his death, that Paul Robeson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
At Columbia Law School (1919-1923), Robeson met and married Eslanda Cordoza Goode, who was to become the first Black woman to head a pathology laboratory. He took a job with a law firm, but left when a white secretary refused to take dictation from him. He left the practice of law to use his artistic talents in theater and music to promote African and African-American history and culture.
In London, Robeson earned international acclaim for his lead role in Othello, for which he won the Donaldson Award for Best Acting Performance (1944), and performed in Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones and All God's Chillun Got Wings. He is known for changing the lines of the Showboat song "Old Man River" from the meek "...I'm tired of livin' and 'feared of dyin'....," to a declaration of resistance, "... I must keep fightin' until I'm dying....". His 11 films included Body and Soul (1924), Jericho (1937), and Proud Valley (1939). Robeson's travels taught him that racism was not as virulent in Europe as in the U.S. At home, it was difficult to find restaurants that would serve him, theaters in New York would only seat Blacks in the upper balconies, and his performances were often surrounded with threats or outright harassment. In London, on the other hand, Robeson's opening night performance of Emperor Jones brought the audience to its feet with cheers for twelve encores.
Paul Robeson used his deep baritone voice to promote Black spirituals, to share the cultures of other countries, and to benefit the labor and social movements of his time. He sang for peace and justice in 25 languages throughout the U.S., Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa. Robeson became known as a citizen of the world, equally comfortable with the people of Moscow, Nairobi, and Harlem. Among his friends were future African leader Jomo Kenyatta, India's Nehru, historian Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, anarchist Emma Goldman, and writers James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. In 1933, Robeson donated the proceeds of All God's Chillun to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Germany. At a 1937 rally for the anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War, he declared, "The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative." In New York in 1939, he premiered in Earl Robinson's Ballad for Americans, a cantata celebrating the multi-ethnic, multi-racial face of America. It was greeted with the largest audience response since Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds."
During the 1940s, Robeson continued to perform and to speak out against racism, in support of labor, and for peace. He was a champion of working people and organized labor. He spoke and performed at strike rallies, conferences, and labor festivals worldwide. As a passionate believer in international cooperation, Robeson protested the growing Cold War and worked tirelessly for friendship and respect between the U.S. and the USSR. In 1945, he headed an organization that challenged President Truman to support an anti-lynching law. In the late 1940s, when dissent was scarcely tolerated in the U.S., Robeson openly questioned why African Americans should fight in the army of a government that tolerated racism. Because of his outspokenness, he was accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of being a Communist. Robeson saw this as an attack on the democratic rights of everyone who worked for international friendship and for equality. The accusation nearly ended his career. Eighty of his concerts were canceled, and in 1949 two interracial outdoor concerts in Peekskill, N.Y. were attacked by racist mobs while state police stood by. Robeson responded, "I'm going to sing wherever the people want me to sing...and I won't be frightened by crosses burning in Peekskill or anywhere else."
In 1950, the U.S. revoked Robeson's passport, leading to an eight-year battle to resecure it and to travel again. During those years, Robeson studied Chinese, met with Albert Einstein to discuss the prospects for world peace, published his autobiography, Here I Stand, and sang at Carnegie Hall. Two major labor-related events took place during this time. In 1952 and 1953, he held two concerts at Peace Arch Park on the U.S.-Canadian border, singing to 30-40,000 people in both countries. In 1957, he made a transatlantic radiophone broadcast from New York to coal miners in Wales. In 1960, Robeson made his last concert tour to New Zealand and Australia. In ill health, Paul Robeson retired from public life in 1963. He died on January 23, 1976, at age 77, in Philadelphia.
Anti-BDS summit raised millions to bully the movement for justice
Submitted by Anonymous on Tue, 06/09/2015 - 7:14am
Sheldon Adelson's Mistake
by Rebecca Vilkomerson
Originally published in The Hill, 6/9/2015
This weekend, Sheldon Adelson hosted a summit in Las Vegas — intended to be secret — to talk about how to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Meanwhile, in Israel, President Reuven Rivlin this week called academic boycott a "strategic threat of the highest degree" and the country's leading newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, announced it is "mobilizing for war" against BDS.
Ten years almost to the day after the call for BDS was issued by Palestinian civil society, this diverse, grassroots and global movement for Palestinian freedom and rights has become successful enough to nearly panic those dedicated to maintaining the political status quo in Israel and the occupied territories.
They are fighting a battle against history, and one that they cannot win. Millions of dollars and more polished propaganda will not be enough to suppress BDS and the growing movement for freedom and equality for all peoples in Israel and Palestine. As long as the state of Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes, uproot villages, imprison children, build illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and maintain a cruel and illegal blockade that has decimated the lives of people in Gaza, more and more people of conscience will support the BDS movement.
In just the last year, BDS proponents in the U.S. have marked several major victories, including Lauryn Hill canceling a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel; the Presbyterian Church (USA) divesting from three companies profiting from the occupation; and at least a dozen university campuses passing divestment resolutions. The Gaza War last year, with its terrible toll on civilians, and the recent election of the most right-wing and overtly racist government in Israeli history, have convinced more people that they must act where governments have failed to end Israel's denial of Palestinian freedom and equal rights.
In stark contrast to the rightward trend in Israel, in the last year the Black Lives Matter movement has galvanized a new generation of Americans to fight racial injustice; student groups are seeing some success using divestment as a tool in the fight against climate change; and immigrant rights groups are fighting companies using similar tactics and equipment on our own borders and along Israel's wall. A powerful multiracial, multiethnic coalition, led in large part by young Palestinian-Americans, is emerging that insists upon holding corporations and countries accountable for human rights violations and inequality, regardless of whether the injustice is happening in the U.S. or Israel.
Contrary to most portrayals, many Jewish Americans, especially younger ones, are active supporters of the BDS movement. Those of us with strong ties to Israel — like me — are drawn to support BDS not just because its core principle of justice reflects our own, but precisely because we'd like to see Israel transform into the place we always thought it was. In that, we join a small but valiant number of Israelis who put their bodies on the line in an increasingly hostile society to support the nonviolent movement in Palestine. We do so in the hopes that it will lead to a brighter future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The alternative offered to this vibrant, creative, inclusive movement — whose aims are freedom and equality — are right-wing, anti-democratic forces attempting to bully and bribe their way into maintaining U.S. policies toward Israel. Our military, economic and diplomatic support of Israel is a linchpin of the Israeli ability to continue its current policies, so it is hardly surprising that those committed to Israel maintaining dominance and control are mobilizing to oppose a fundamental shift in the U.S. approach.
What is surprising are the tactics they are willing to engage in — from trying to intimidate and libel student activists, to using accusations of anti-Semitism to keep criticisms of Israel at bay. These morally reprehensible strategies lead to cynicism about real anti-Semitism and create an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation — especially toward young Muslim and Arab activists who already face Islamophobia — that can have real consequences on peoples' careers and livelihoods.
Even more disturbing is that major Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federation of North America, Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League, which profess to support democracy and civil rights, are joining extremists like Sheldon Adelson — who makes no secret of his disdain for democracy and contempt for the Palestinian people — to fight a nonviolent grassroots movement. These Jewish institutions should be putting their energy into their missions: serving Jewish students, fighting bigotry and discrimination, and supporting local Jewish communities, not spending their time and resources fighting activism for equal rights and an end to nearly half a century of Israeli occupation.
Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Is Netanyahu Waging “War” on Critics at Home?
The Israeli government has indicated it is preparing to take a hard line against human rights groups, the media and Supreme Court
A month into resuming his premiership, Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of an increasingly autocratic rule, as critics warn that his new government is preparing to take a draconian line against Israeli institutions opposing its policies.
Israel’s new right wing coalition has already indicated it will make a priority of tackling three fronts – human rights organisations, the media and the Supreme Court. All repeatedly clashed with Netanyahu during his previous terms in office.
The leader of the parliamentary opposition, Isaac Herzog, sounded the alarm last month, cautioning Netanyahu not to “raise a hand” against the judiciary, media or the country’s minorities, including its 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. Netanyahu, he added, appeared to have learnt “tricks” from the region’s dictators.
Long-time observers of Israeli politics also fear that the current narrow right-wing coalition will give the prime minister a much freer hand. In his two earlier governments, Netanyahu depended on the support of centrist parties, such as Labor and Yesh Atid. Now he faces no such constraints.
After Netanyahu awarded himself new powers to veto legislation this week, Dov Khenin, the only Jewish member of the Arab-led Joint List party in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, wondered: “Are we for autocracy?”
Similarly, Uri Avnery, leader of the Gush Shalom peace movement and a former Knesset member, concluded in a recent column entitled “Who will save Israel?” that: “The extreme right has found its self-assurance, and is determined to use its power.”
Causes for concern have quickly mounted.
They have included the announcement of a government bill to penalise human rights groups working to help Palestinians in the occupied territories, as well as to protect the rights of the large Palestinian minority inside Israel and of African asylum seekers.
In addition, a diplomatic source told Middle East Eye that behind the scenes Israeli officials are trying to browbeat European governments into ending funding for the Israeli human rights community.
Eyebrows have also been raised by Netanyahu’s decision to reserve the communications ministry, which regulates the media, for himself. This is despite his having a shortage of ministerial posts with which to reward coalition partners.
Analysts have warned that Netanyahu is preparing to intimidate parts of the media critical of him and shore up the position of Israel Hayom, a free daily that has become the biggest-circulation national newspaper. Owned by US casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the paper staunchly supports Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, there are fears that the Israeli Supreme Court, which repeatedly came to blows with Netanyahu’s last government over efforts to jail and deport asylum seekers, is in his sights as well.
The prime minister agreed to appoint Ayelet Shaked, of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, as justice minister. Shaked has been a fierce critic of the court, and has previously tried to introduce legislation to neuter it.
“Netanyahu has good as declared war on dissent, whether it’s from human rights organisations or the media,” said Jafar Farah, director of Mossawa, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian minority.
Israel ‘not perfect’
Netanyahu has defended his record against such charges.
Following criticism from US President Barack Obama that his security worldview assumed only the “worst possibilities”, he said on Thursday: “Israel isn’t perfect, but it is on a level with the world’s great democracies and it faces challenges that are much more difficult.”
He added that his government had invested heavily in helping Israel’s Palestinian minority, and he promised to preserve the independence of the Supreme Court, while stressing that his intention was only to open up the media to greater competition, not to control it.
“I believe in competition in products, in goods and also in ideas,” he told a press conference.
But critics are not reassured.
A European diplomat in Jerusalem told MEE that Israel had been waging an aggressive campaign in capitals across Europe to persuade them to stop funding human rights groups in Israel.
“The pressure being exerted on us behind the scenes is intense,” said the source, who wished not to be named, given the issue’s sensitivity.
The diplomat added that Israel wanted in particular to silence Israeli groups whose work might encourage a growing international boycott campaign or assist investigations by the International Criminal Court, which the Palestinians officially joined in April.
The diplomat indicated that B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence – both of which highlight human rights abuses and are funded by European governments – were top of Israel’s hit-list.
Row over soldiers’ testimony
The tensions exploded into public view this week when Israel’s foreign ministry opened a rift with Switzerland over its support for an exhibition by Breaking the Silence.
Yigal Caspi, Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, denounced the exhibition in Zurich as “slander” for featuring photographs and testimonies from Israeli soldiers alleging violations of Palestinian human rights.
Caspi demanded that the Swiss government immediately stop funding the exhibition. Israel has previously demanded that Britain, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark also end their support for the group.
The row was immediately followed by a decision from the culture ministry to pull funding from a dance show due to open in Tel Aviv that incorporates video clips from the occupied territories taken by B’Tselem.
Tzipi Hotovely, Netanyahu’s deputy in the foreign ministry, warned on Tuesday that the government would “act against groups that operate against Israel from within the country and abroad”.
Breaking the Silence responded by criticising the government’s “anti-democratic campaign”.
NGO bill in pipeline
The clash with Switzerland looked like the opening round in a more comprehensive move to muzzle human rights groups, said Rina Rosenberg, the head of advocacy at Adalah, a legal centre for Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
“The direction this government appears to be heading in is a cause for great concern,” she told MEE. “It looks like we are in for a big fight.”
The coalition parties specified in their agreement last month that they would advance what is being dubbed an “NGO bill”, targeting groups seen as left-wing and pro-Palestinian. Shaked, the new justice minister, is the driving force behind the measure.
According to Israeli media, the bill is likely to require NGOs to seek the approval of the defence and foreign ministries over funding they receive from foreign governments – a move that is expected to apply to human rights and pro-Palestinian groups exclusively.
If such legislation passes, most of these groups would struggle to survive financially, said Rosenberg.
In the previous Knesset, Netanyahu’s government tried to pass legislation against human rights organisations but froze it following protests from western governments. One proposal was to classify leftist groups receiving overseas funding as “foreign agents”.
At the same time groups like Rabbis for Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights were rejected for tax-exempt status, limiting their ability to fund-raise, while right-wing groups were given the status.
Rosenberg said Netanyahu’s new government appeared to have learnt its lesson and was avoiding overtly politicised legislation.
“This time it looks like they are going to be much smarter – and that makes the situation more dangerous,” she said. “By conditioning funding on permission from the defence ministry or a Knesset committee, they can say they are following practices adopted in countries like Egypt, Jordan and India.”
She feared that Israel would be able to rebuff criticism by claiming it was being singled out.
Farah, of Mossawa, said Netanyahu was also seeking to “consolidate his power over the media”, as a further way to silence critics.
As well as becoming communications minister, he has placed himself in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and increased his control of the ministerial committee overseeing legislation.
As part of the coalition agreement, Netanyahu insisted that his partners commit to supporting any communications initiatives he introduces.
Amir Teig, a media analyst, warned that Netanyahu was determined to turn himself into a “communications czar”.
Yossi Verter, a political analyst for Haaretz, argued that this was “payback time” for Netanyahu. Netanyahu was reported to have been incensed by news coverage during the campaign that painted him in an unflattering light.
Threat to TV channels
Netanyahu’s main goal, according to analysts, is to end any threat of restrictions on the national daily newspaper Israel Hayom.
Netanyahu’s coalition partners in the last Knesset denounced the paper as Israel’s “Pravda”, after the official mouthpiece of the former Soviet regime.
Netanyahu called early elections last November shortly after the Knesset passed the first reading of legislation to bar national distribution of a free newspaper to limit Israel Hayom’s influence.
The paper, which loses Adelson an estimated $5m a year, has left the largest paid-for newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, which is critical of Netanyahu, struggling.
Netanyahu has also used his communications role to make life difficult for the country’s two loss-making commercial TV stations, Channels 2 and 10. He has offered no relief on their heavy debts, with Channel 10 in particular in danger of closure.
Farah said Netanyahu’s financial threats were an effective way to intimidate the broadcasters who rely on state advertising.
Judges ready for fight
Concerns for the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal for Palestinians in the occupied territories, as well as for minorities inside Israel, are also mounting.
Netanyahu shocked many in the legal community last month by appointing Jewish Home’s Shaked as justice minister. She has been a fierce critic of the court for being too liberal.
A retired Supreme Court justice was quoted saying of her appointment: “They [the government] are inviting a fight.”
Shaked is known to want to deny the Supreme Court the right to overturn laws and to change the judicial appointments system so that right-wing judges dominate.
“The idea of the court as a liberal institution is a myth,” said Daphna Golan, a law professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem specialising in human rights. “It is actually very conservative and rarely protects the rights of Palestinians, whether in the occupied territories or in Israel.”
“But as far as Shaked and the right are concerned, it is too activist and they want to weaken it.”
This week Shaked introduced her first bill as justice minister, setting a 10-year jail tariff for those found guilty of throwing stones. Observers expect the law to be applied only to Palestinians.
Golan said the danger was that, faced with threats from the government, the Supreme Court was becoming ever more loath to uphold human rights, removing yet more democratic protections.
• First published in Middle East Eye