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increased poverty in PalestineThe Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been ongoing for more than 70 years, has placed strain on the economic stability of Palestinian citizens. In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to the economic challenges that people have faced in Palestine, leading to a widespread and worsening state of poverty. Increased poverty in Palestine calls for increased international aid and support.

Poverty in Palestine

A large portion of Palestine’s population lives below the poverty line and cannot afford food, clothing and shelter. In 2017, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) found that one in every three Palestinians lived in poverty, equating to almost 30% of people. The Gaza Strip had the highest concentration of citizens living in poverty at a rate of 53%.

Inadequate work opportunities and low wages play a large role in poverty in Palestine. Research indicates that the job status of the head of the house greatly impacts the risk of poverty. The PCBS also found that 42.1% of households whose heads did not have a steady job lived in poverty compared to 25.8% of households with an employed head of the house.

This is especially alarming when one takes the unemployment rate into account as 43.1% of Gaza’s citizens were unemployed in the last quarter of 2020. The average monthly wage for those with a steady source of income in Gaza is a mere 682 ILS (about $207). Many people earn below the minimum wage, making it difficult for Palestinians to pull themselves out of poverty.

The Effect of COVID-19 on Poverty

The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed the little progress that Palestine made toward economic stability. While Palestinians were able to narrowly dodge the first wave of the pandemic, the next two waves destroyed economic gains. The World Bank predicted that “after growth of a mere 1% in 2019,” the Palestinian economy may contract by a minimum of 7.6% in 2020. In addition, due to decreased revenue, the financing gap could increase from $800 million in 2019 to more than $1.5 billion in 2020. Vaccines have become an issue as well.

Although the U.N. released a statement declaring that Israel is responsible for providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel excluded Palestinians from the vaccination campaign until recently. Israel prioritized only Palestinians working in Israel, overlooking the millions of Palestinians living in or near Gaza, for whom Israel has allotted only 5,000 doses.

Without vaccines, Palestinians are unable to leave their homes for work and food, plunging them further into poverty. The international COVAX scheme, backed by the WHO, should cover up to 20% of vaccine requirements for Palestinians. Palestinians have also sourced “limited quantities of vaccines from elsewhere” but have a long way to go to achieve herd immunity.

Education in Palestine

Many Palestinian children no longer have access to safe schooling. A U.N. report detailing the violence keeping children out of school mentions “threats of demolition, clashes on the way to school between students and security forces, teachers stopped at checkpoints and violent actions of Israeli forces and settlers on some occasions.”

These conditions impacted more than 19,000 children in the 2018 school year, limiting their ability to safely obtain an education. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of securing an education, especially for the impoverished population of Palestine. The Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reports that 34.83% of Palestinian students could not join virtual classes due to a lack of resources and internet connection.

Due to a lack of education and opportunities, Israeli officers have arrested many children trying to cross the Israeli border for a better life. As of April 2021, 71.4% of children who attempted to cross the border were school dropouts trying to escape increased poverty in Palestine.

Organizations Working to Reduce Poverty

Organizations like UNICEF are addressing the education crisis through initiatives such as the Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative, which began in 2015. The program focuses on enhancing life skills and improving citizenship education. UNICEF also conducts “entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.” The program includes internships and career counseling.

In 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) spent $57 million of U.S. funding to ease poverty in Palestine, assisting more than 430,000 citizens. This included 33% of women-led households and 4.3% of the disabled population. The WFP provided cash-based transfers, food packages and “agriculture assets and training” to address increased poverty in Palestine.

The Road Ahead

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has severely worsened the state of poverty in Palestine as citizens end up in the crossfire. However, the ceasefire that Palestinian and Israeli officials announced in May 2021 may be a step in the direction of safety and stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Greater international support will help lower poverty rates and raise the quality of life in Palestine.

Mariam Abaza
Photo: pixabay

HIV/AIDS in Israel
With the marvels of medical technology, medical professionals can now cure most infections and diseases with a combination of treatments and pharmaceutical drugs. However, it is challenging for them to treat some viruses still. Amongst the stubborn viruses that still elude the medical communities’ ability is the HIV/AIDS virus, a diagnosis that for too many means the end of living a normal life. The effects of HIV/AIDS in Israel have been profound and COVID-19 may worsen the situation.

The Effects of HIV/AIDS in Israel

Following the first case of AIDS in the 1980s, the world bore witness to an epidemic that swept the globe in an unprecedented manner. From 1981 to 2010, Israel reported nearly 10,000 cases, with around 7,000 of them still ongoing in the country. People living with HIV/AIDS in Israel fall into some of the most vulnerable groups in society. This includes injecting drug users and immigrants. Israeli immigrants, often from countries like Sudan, China and Eritrea, often face obstacles receiving treatment for AIDS. While testing is free, the pathway to HIV/AIDs drugs remains expensive and out of reach for many. This creates a socioeconomic divide on who has access to treatment and who does not. According to a report by the Israeli Task Force, many immigrants are unaware of their access to free testing.

COVID-19 Compounding Consequences

Since the beginning, nation-states have strived to mitigate the effects of the HIV/AIDS virus on their populations. Communities most at risk often face marginalization and are disproportionately at risk of poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted services to help these groups. This has caused many to fall into poverty. The Health Ministry of Israel worries that poverty and food and housing insecurity will rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Health Ministry of Israel is collaborating with other government sectors to create and strengthen initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS. For example, needle exchange programs, homeless shelters and meals all function as efforts to combat the effects of HIV/AIDS in Israel. Health officials in these programs are now essential as the government prepares for a rise in cases.

The Good News

As a result, Israel is taking steps in the right direction to fight HIV/AIDS. Within society, a conservative outlook on sex and the religious practice of circumcision keep the numbers relatively low. In addition regional cooperation inside of Israel with IGOs like the UN and WHO have made workshops and collaboration with Israeli NGOs and the Jerusalem AIDS Project. Israeli researchers are some of the world’s foremost pioneers and drivers of HIV/AIDS vaccine research and in 2019 introduced a ‘mosaic’ vaccine that identifies and responds to more variant strains of the HIV virus. Though HIV/AIDS is still a prevalent issue, Israel is making great strides in combating the virus.

– Alex Pinamang
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination In Israel
As of early June 2021, estimates have determined that over 80% of the Israeli adult population has received vaccinations with reports of 15 COVID-19 cases in one week. This is the all-time low for Israel in more than a year. However, the successful campaign for COVID-19 vaccination in Israel has encouraged the government to be more lenient regarding COVID-19 restrictions.

Making Progress

Recently, the Israel Health Ministry let the public know that it will remove the Green Pass and Purple Badge restriction. A Green Pass represents those who have entirely recovered from COVID-19 and those fully vaccinated. A Green Pass is downloadable to a person’s phone or can be a physical document. Israel’s Ministry of Health authorized it. This became necessary to do activities associated with the general public. The Purple Badge represents a self-regulated standard that businesses use to help control the virus. That standard includes maintaining a two-meter distance between people and checking body temperature upon entering the facility. The lifting of the Green Pass and the Purple Badge will allow all businesses to resume normal activities without any limitations on the number of people in one area. Soon, this will extend to places of business, workplaces and public transportation.

Normality Returning

There are no further restrictions on the number of people gathered in a specific area, whether that be indoors or outdoors. Concerts and festivals can now restart and continue as pre-pandemic times. The indoor mask mandate will not change as of now. In December 2020, 10 million doses became available in Israel. The country has now moved onto vaccinating non-vulnerable groups. Israel is still cautious of foreign travelers. People who travel to Israel have to quarantine for a mandatory two weeks. Then, on day nine, they must receive a COVID-19 test. If an Israeli citizen would like to travel to a country with a high COVID-19 infection rate, they would need to provide special paperwork. The countries are Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, Mexico and Ukraine.

Will the Change Work?

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 vaccination in Israel has changed the dynamic in the country. Many are excited for the normalcy to return, while others are cautious. While the cases of COVID-19 are low, the Health Ministry is concerned that new strains will enter from abroad. The Ministry’s attention focuses on the international airport located in Ben-Gurion. However, regulations and restrictions become at risk. More than two-thirds of foreigners entering the country, do not spend the mandatory two weeks in quarantine. The solution to the problem is a monitoring electronic bracelet that already exists and is ready for use. The system needs the approval of the Constitutional Affairs Committee. However, this committee remains inactive at the moment.

Candice Lewis
Photo: Flickr

Covid-19 and Poverty in Israel
In 2020, poverty in Israel increased as the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world. At the beginning of 2021, at least 2 million Israelis were living below the poverty line. Israel’s poverty rate increased from 22.4% in 2019 to 23% in 2020. In addition, Israel’s economy took a 2.4% contraction in 2020, resulting in high unemployment. The wealth divide became more evident during the pandemic as poverty in Israel continued to grow. However, as poverty devastated the economy, there have been significant efforts for recovery. This article explores the relationship between poverty and COVID-19 in Israel along with some organizations’ efforts to provide aid.

The Poverty Rate in Israel

Before the pandemic began, many Israeli citizens were already living in poverty. At least 1.8 million people lived under the poverty line in 2018, with 841,000 of those being children. Their standard of living dipped significantly throughout 2020 as well. Fortunately, government handouts and unemployment benefits have helped reduce poverty rates for many low-income and middle-class people. Thus, government aid played an instrumental role in reducing poverty rates and helping Israelis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The beginning of 2021 saw some growth in the economy. In December 2020, Israel began its vaccination drive, hoping to vaccinate at least 60,000 people a day to combat the coronavirus.

Economy in Israel

With the Israeli economy reopening and most citizens having received the COVID-19 vaccine, there were only around 400 active infections at the end of March 2021, the lowest since June 2020. Serious infections also hit a three-month low. As of early July 2021, around 5.2 million people received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. With most of its vulnerable population vaccinated, Israel emerged from its third national lockdown in February 2021.

While Israel’s economy is starting to recover and lockdowns and restrictions are slowly starting to ease, the pandemic plunged 15% of its middle class plunged into poverty. The need for financial aid rose to 70% in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite the surge in poverty, however, there is still hope for Israelis suffering from the pandemic. Various organizations are currently implementing solutions to aid impoverished communities in Israel. An Economic Survey of Israel has identified solutions that can help Israel recover from the pandemic. The presented measures and reforms in the survey included upgrading infrastructure, improving educational outcomes, supporting the poor, simplifying taxes, reducing economic distortions and reducing health risks by improving the environment.

IMPROVATE Innovative Conference

Israel is currently using Israeli technology to help it get out of its COVID-19 crisis. An IMPROVATE Innovative conference occurred in early 2021 where Israeli Innovative and Technology companies met to discuss how their companies can assist Israelis in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. IMPROVATE launched in September 2020 to connect world leaders in the advancement of global progress. With these meetings taking place, it seems as if technological advances will play a role in helping to reshape Israel after its economic crisis.

Latet

Nonprofit organizations have also stepped in to help with the economic disaster. Latet has been the leading NGO fighting poverty in Israel for the past 24 years. It is continuing to help the people of Israel by assisting its most vulnerable populations that the pandemic devastated. Latet believes the Israeli government should be doing more to combat inequality and improve access to resources in Israel.

The nonprofit launched an emergency response during the pandemic to help Israel’s elderly population. With help from volunteers, Latet has provided packages including food, hygiene products and entertainment items to the homes of older people to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The nonprofit has also launched a hotline for populations that need assistance with food or other necessities. Latet has distributed 45,000 emergency packages in addition to its regular program, which helps 60,000 families in need.

Hope for the Future

While COVID-19 has increased poverty in Israel, hope still exists for economic recovery. Millions of Israelis are receiving vaccinations, the economy is slowly reopening and technology companies and NGOs are willing to help the nation deal with the aftermath of COVID-19. While some economic progress for Israel has occurred, the push for further progress must continue.

– Jose Ahumada
Photo: Flickr

Children in GazaMalala Yousafzai is an activist who works to provide educational opportunities to girls around the world. Yousafzai began the Malala Fund in 2013. The Malala Fund helps girls gain access to 12 years of free, quality education in a safe environment. Today, Yousafzai continues to help children in developing countries with access to education. In May 2021, Yousafzai made a significant donation to safeguard children in Gaza. With the assistance of Save the Children, Defense for Children International Palestine and KinderUSA, Yousafzai’s $150,000 donation will help children and families in Gaza rebuild their lives.

The Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

The Gaza bombings since May 10, 2021, caused devastating damage to infrastructure and depleted resources for the two million people living in Gaza. The violence between Israel and Palestine is worse than it was during the Gaza War in 2014. While the tensions reached a ceasefire on May 20, 2021, the conflict stems from more than 25 years of issues between Israel and Palestine. The U.N. reports that 72,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in search of safety in the aftermath of the violent outbreak. Gaza’s hospitals are running low on resources to treat the thousands of wounded victims impacted by the bombings and violence. Many of these victims include children.

Malala Yousafzai Supports Children in Gaza

In May 2021, it was reported that “six hospitals, nine health clinics and about 50 education facilities were damaged in Gaza.” Furthermore, crucial infrastructures were destroyed and water pipes burst, all while hospitals struggle to care for those in need of medical attention. In order to address these issues, Yousafzai donated a total of $150,000 to three nonprofit organizations in order to help children in Gaza. These organizations are working to provide clean water for children and rebuild schools that were damaged during the conflict. The organizations will also provide medical resources for the children in Gaza.

Organizations Helping Children in Gaza

Yousafzai donated $100,000 to Save the Children, a global nonprofit organization addressing the needs of children in areas where children receive few resources. Save the Children creates programs with families, community leaders and local councils to foster successful and long-term change. As a result of Yousafzai’s donation, Save the Children will provide clean water access and food vouchers for children in Gaza. Moreover, the children will receive mental health support. The organization will also provide nutritional support for pregnant women and new mothers.

Other organizations aiding Gaza are Defense for Children International Palestine (DCI Palestine) and KinderUSA. Yousafzai donated $25,000 to each. DCI Palestine safeguards the rights of Palestinian children. Additionally, KinderUSA is an American Muslim organization with a goal to help “children in crisis through development and emergency relief.” KinderUSA responds to emergencies involving children in Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda, Somalia, Syria and beyond. In 2013, the organization provided winter clothes to Syrian children to protect them from the potential impacts of the harsh weather.

Hope for Children in Gaza

Save the Children asserts that a ceasefire on its own is not enough and that more must be done to safeguard the fundamental rights of children in Gaza. Yousafzai believes that Palestinian children deserve to live in peace and safety with opportunities to pursue an education and reach their full potential. With the help of organizations fighting to protect children’s rights, children living in Gaza have hope of a better tomorrow.

Nia Owens
Photo: Wikimedia

Israeli Eye Camps Treat and Train
MASHAV, the Hebrew acronym for Israel’s international development operation, pioneered the Israeli eye camps that are now undergoing implementation in many developing countries, providing sight to those who are unable to afford proper eye care. MASHAV has worked in regions such as North Africa and in countries such as China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. People living in these regions often do not have access to proper medical care, so MASHAV has made it a goal to continue to provide aid to impoverished and disaster-affected areas worldwide.

The History of MASHAV

In 1958, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, or MASHAV, began. It helps developing countries lessen poverty, disease and hunger. MASHAV’s areas of expertise include crop production, animal care, nutrition and environmental sustainability, including addressing environmental challenges and bioenergy. MASHAV also specializes in fields such as water management, community development, irrigation, early childhood education, desert agriculture and many more.

One major way MASHAV has provided support is through sharing technology and providing technical training to local professionals. This is important as MASHAV seeks to work in a way that the progress the agency makes can continue once the agency’s members leave a country. Impoverished communities then obtain various skills and tools to lift themselves out of poverty. Seminars, workshops, training, conferences and exchange visits are a few of the most common ways MASHAV carries out its training goals.

Israeli Eye Camps in Africa

In Africa, many individuals living in poverty suffer from problems with their sight. Problems can include blindness due to malnutrition, trauma, cataracts or improper treatment of infections. Many are in need of surgery for cataracts and ocular plastic surgery services. However, inadequate healthcare facilities and severe shortages of supplies, trained personnel and equipment are prevalent in many African communities.

Beginning in 1960, Israeli medical experts and Israeli ophthalmologists set up clinics in impoverished communities in Africa to perform a variety of important activities. These clinics stayed in each area for two weeks. During that time, the medical professionals in the Israeli eye camps treated hundreds of people, restoring sight to many.

However, in addition to the effective reach of eye treatment, the camps provided medical training in eye care so that these areas could keep the camps operational after the Israeli professionals have left. In various developing nations, Israeli doctors found themselves training local professionals to carry on the mission through education on how to use a laser, to perform eye checkups and to perform other ocular procedures. This implementation of professionals into the community is a major long-term benefit of the eye camps.

Looking Forward

Many impoverished people in a variety of African countries suffer from treatable eyesight conditions. To aid these people, Israeli eye camps have allowed teams of doctors to treat individuals and train locals to maintain this kind of aid themselves. Providing a community with the knowledge and tools to continue projects begun by humanitarian aid organizations promotes social equity and sustainable growth.

– Madeline Drayna
Photo: Flickr

HebronHebron, also known as Al Khalil, is an ancient city located within the West Bank. It sits along the heavily-contested boundary between what is considered Palestinian and Israeli territory. As the site of vital religious and spiritual significance, Hebron has endured both strife and cultural development through the years. Demographically, Al Khalil is the most populated city within the West Bank, with 200,000 Palestinian-identifying residents as of 2018. One of the minority populations in the city, the Kurds, often suffered economically and financially due to their marginalized status. This disparity is especially clear in the context of refugee camps, where the majority of Kurdish communities reside. The Multidimensional Poverty Index of Palestine reports that poverty stands at 39% in refugee camps compared to 14% in rural areas and 24% in urban areas.

Life in Gaza

More than half of Palestinians living in Gaza, another site of frequent dissension, are currently in poverty. Furthermore, 33% of the Palestinian population suffers from unemployment. Food insecurity is an unfortunate but harsh reality among this segment of the population. This occurs due to trade boycotts and economic barriers. A variety of obstructions deter Palestinians from obtaining the resources they require. These range from physical checkpoints that divide the land and military frisking to international embargos as well as local trade impediments imposed by the Israeli state. On top of the hunger and poverty that families face, thousands of Palestinians experience homelessness and displacement.

The Israel-Palestine Conflict During COVID-19

As a result of the multitude of issues associated with trade and resource accessibility in Palestinian territory, more members of the population than ever before are presently struggling with extreme poverty. With the recent developments brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, medical resources have become a new source of internal conflict. The unequal distribution of vaccines has caused an uproar across all sides of the ongoing political dispute.

As the death rate among Palestinians rises and more than 2,670 Palestinians have passed away as of March 22, 2021, it is evident that government authorities must equalize the distribution of medical resources to meet citizens’ needs. However, due to the contentious conditions within Israel-Palestine, it is unclear exactly who is responsible for ensuring equal distribution among communities. The United Nations has shrugged off the burden. It instead stated that it is the state of Israel’s duty to vaccinate Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Such a designation of tasks has not proven successful. Political divides continue to affect the manner in which the population receives access to the vaccine.

The International Trade Drought in Hebron

In terms of the far-reaching effects of the pandemic in Hebron specifically, lack of access to foreign imports from China and East Asia has greatly weakened the already fragile Palestinian market. Many Palestinian business owners rely on Chinese-produced goods to make ends meet. With the increase of trade restrictions due to the global health crisis, merchants are no longer able to acquire the products that they normally sell to consumers. With much of agricultural sources of income blocked off by political circumstances, local trade is one of the few ways that Palestinian individuals are able to make a sustainable income.

According to Abdo Idrees, the head of Hebron’s Chamber of Commerce, another major source of income for Palestinian workers, factory work, has also suffered severely since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the successes and downfalls of globalization in the local economy extremely apparent. The profits of exports have become unavailable and citizens cannot obtain a majority of the imported products upon which they depend.

Future Relief for the City of Al Khalil

Although current Israeli-Palestinian relations remain tense in the city of Al Khalil, particularly after the decision of the Biden administration to leave the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, a shred of hope still remains for Hebron and its citizens. The United Nations and other international bodies have expressed a firm commitment to attaining stability in the sacred city. The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) pledged to preserve its mission of protecting the citizens of Hebron and supporting a safe two-state solution that may be the key to finally achieving long-awaited peace and statehood for Palestine.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Eliminate Poverty in Israel
In 2020, Israel faced a massive increase in poverty as COVID-19 spread throughout the world. In 2019, reports determined that poverty in Israel rose by 0.5%. There was a significant increase in the poverty rate from 22.4% in 2019 to 23% in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic being a contributor. In fact, Israel’s economy contracted 2.4% in 2020 resulting in high unemployment. Here is some information about the situation in Israel along with the efforts that some are initiating to eliminate poverty in Israel.

A History of Poverty

Before the pandemic began, Israel already had a history with its inhabitants living in poverty. At least 1.8 million people were living under the poverty line in 2018, with 841,000 of those people being children. Poverty among the elderly also increased from a staggering 17.2% to 18.8% in 2017. The standard of living has dipped significantly as well. The need for financial aid rose up to 70% in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The beginning of 2021 promised some growth in the economy. In December 2020, Israel began its vaccination inoculation drive, hoping to vaccinate 60,000 people a day to combat the coronavirus.

The Road to Recovery 

With the Israeli economy reopening and most of its people having received the COVID-19 vaccine, there have been about 400 infections, the lowest since June 2020, marking a three-month low. About 4.7 million people received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. With most of its vulnerable population vaccinated, Israel started to emerge from its third national lockdown in February 2021.

While its economy is still starting to recover from the current lockdowns and it is slowly starting to ease restrictions, most of the middle class plunged into poverty due to the effects of the pandemic. With the surge of poverty in Israel, hope exists for those who are suffering from the pandemic’s catastrophic effects. Various groups and organizations have implemented solutions to help impoverished communities in Israel.

Israeli is using technology to help it solve its economic crisis. The IMPROVATE Innovative conference occurred in early 2021 in which Israeli innovation and technology companies met and discussed how their companies would assist in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. The IMPROVATE Innovative launched in September 2020 to connect world leaders in the advancement of global progress. With the meetings taking place, it seems that technological advancements will play a role in helping to reshape Israel after its economic crisis.

Making a Change for the Better

An OECD Economic Survey of Israel from 2020 has identified solutions that can help eliminate poverty in Israel. Measures and reforms in the survey included upgrading infrastructure, improving educational outcomes, supporting the poor, simplifying taxes, reducing economic distortions and reducing health risks by improving the environment.

Nonprofit organizations have also stepped in to help with the economic disaster. One of the leading NGOs in the country, Latet, believes the Israeli government should be doing more to combat inequality and access to resources in Israel. Fortunately, other nonprofits exist that are aiding in the battle against poverty and are instrumental in helping Israel recover.

While COVID-19 put the people of Israel in poverty, millions received vaccinations and the economy is slowly reopening. Technology groups and NGOs are willing to put in the effort to help during the COVID-19 aftermath, aiding in efforts to eliminate poverty in Israel and improve its economy. 

Jose Ahumada
Photo: Flickr

Uncovering the Struggles and Successes of Argentinian Jews
While Argentinian Jews make up only 0.7% of the population, they have faced significant economic hardship and anti-semitism over the last few decades. Pre-COVID-19, more than one-quarter of the population lived below the poverty line. Additionally, lingering anti-semitism and an economy in a recession have made it nearly impossible for educated Jews to find high-paying jobs.

“Poverty affects Argentinians in general, not only Jewish people, as well as the economic ups and downs, [but] maybe the economic crisis and the inflation affects mostly to Jewish people because many of them are business people who see their businesses, incomes and savings damaged,” Sabri Toker, the coordinator for Onward Israel in Argentina, told The Borgen Project.

COVID-19 Deepens the Poverty Line

In 2020, Argentina faced a significant increase in poverty as COVID-19 deepened the country’s economic crisis. Due to strict lockdowns, Argentina’s poverty rate spiked to between 46% and 47% by the end of June 2020. This is in comparison to just 35.5% in the second half of 2019. The poverty line, drawn at $193 per month, is the reality for many of the 3.5 million people who experience lay-offs during the pandemic.

The pandemic has particularly impacted Argentina’s Jewish community as well, and expectations have determined that much of the community will make aliyah, or emigration, to Israel in 2021 due to economic concerns. In Argentina, a large part of the Jewish population falls into the middle class and has assimilated into Argentinian life. Like most of the country’s middle class, the country’s faulty economy harshly hit this subset. Under President Mauricio Macri, the economy has faced sharp inflation and the devaluation of the peso, which pushed 3.7 million Argentinians below the poverty line in a single year.

A History of Hardship

Anti-semitic attacks were frequent in Argentina prior to World War I. Then, Argentinian Jews faced pogroms following the Russian Revolution; in January 1919, hundreds of Jews experienced beatings and others burned or stole their property. Unable to find government or military work, Jews worked as farmers and shopkeepers. They lived modest lifestyles until the rise of Nazi sentiment in the country.

The rise of Nazism further limited employment and education opportunities for Argentinian Jews. On top of that, many lived in a state of fear and poverty. Argentine Presidents José Félix Uriburu and Agustín Pedro Justo led pro-Nazi regimes prior to World War II. This sentiment continued under Juan Peron, who allowed Argentina to become a safe haven for Nazis. Since Peron’s presidency, 45,000 Argentinian Jews have moved to Israel to escape anti-semitism and the economic struggles associated with low-skilled jobs. In 1960, Israeli agents captured Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires, which increased anti-semitism in Argentina. During a military junta called the Dirty War, hundreds of Jews suffered kidnap and torture.

Discrimination Contributes to Poverty

Anti-semitism reached new heights following two terrorist attacks under President Carlos Menem. Firstly, the Israeli Embassy bombing in 1992 killed 32 people. And secondly, the suicide van bomb attack on Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in 1994 killed 87 people.

“We have discrimination in every environment we are involved in: Secondary school, university, at work, on daily life. It is not usual and an everyday thing, but it exists,” Toker said. “In my opinion, the Jewish community lost a lot of cultural aspects mostly in the last decades of the 20th century.”

By 2002, 24.8% lived in poverty, with an additional 7.5% of Argentinian Jews living in extreme poverty. During this time, banks like Banco Patricios and Banco Mayo collapsed, taking with them millions of dollars that the Jewish community owned. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing many middle-class Jews below the poverty line. Very few Jews hold leadership positions in the military, foreign ministry, or judiciary. Efforts to reduce anti-semitism have picked up over the last decade, but anti-semitic attacks on rabbis and synagogues, including on the country’s chief rabbi Gabriel Davidovich in 2019, have not gone away.

Assisting Argentina’s Vulnerable Jewish Populations

President Alberto Fernández has worked to strengthen ties with Israel, hold terrorist groups accountable and rebuild the country’s Jewish population. After Argentina signed a decree that added Hezbollah to the registry of terrorist organizations, Argentina adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, which sends a clear message that it will not tolerate any form of anti-semitism, including in the workplace.

Created in 1991, Fundación Tzedaká has worked to improve living conditions and job opportunities for Argentina’s impoverished Jews. More than 600 volunteers, 6,500 donors and almost 100 professionals dedicate themselves to the organization’s cause. The Fundación gives food aid to vulnerable families and offers healthcare and nutrition programs. Additionally, it provides housing subsidies and gives training and educational resources to vulnerable youth. In 2020, the organization launched the Guesher Assistance Program. The Program specifically assists people unable to afford food, housing and health needs during the pandemic.

One of Argentina’s Jewish community centers, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), and the Argentine Jewish Schools Federation (FEJA) have also been instrumental in helping sustain schools in Argentina’s Jewish School Network. With many Jewish schools operating only part-time, concerns exist that school desertion could become a major issue. This is particularly concerning to the community as a similar phenomenon occurred during Argentina’s economic crisis two decades ago. AMIA and FEJA encourage monetary contributions to ensure that students not only receive proper education but also remain in the system. Because of this, students have the option to pursue more advanced studies.

Holding On and Moving Forward

Argentina’s Jewish community retained many of its cultural traditions despite its assimilation into the broader Argentinian middle class. “Nowadays we have places run by Orthodox, others by Conservative, others by Reform, every Jew has the possibility of choosing where to go, what to do, what to leave aside,” Toker said. “Those who really want to maintain cultural aspects do that because they want to leave to their children what they received from their grandparents.”

Despite lingering anti-semitism and increasing COVID-19 hardships, Argentinian Jews have not lost their culture. They continue to seek employment and fight against those who have for so long have suppressed their growth.

– Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in IsraelIt is an indisputable fact that everyone needs food for survival. Even further, everyone needs enough nutritious food to truly thrive. That being true, the reality is that not everyone gets enough high-quality, nutritious food yet significant amounts of food are thrown away daily. This dilemma is present globally and Israel is no exception. Food waste and food insecurity in Israel is a growing problem, but one organization, Leket Israel, is working to address both.

Israel’s Food Dilemma

Food waste is an excess of food that usually gets thrown into landfills instead of being consumed. The amount of food wasted in Israel is striking, but possibly more striking is the economic impacts it has on individual and infrastructural levels.

The Environmental Protection Ministry in Israel cited that Israeli families throw away about $1,000 worth of food per year. This equates to $352 million in waste treatment and a month and a half of average household food expenses.

Food waste is present not only on the household level but also prominently in the restaurant and agricultural sectors. Remedying food waste would likely lift a considerable economic weight from the shoulders of many Israeli individuals and communities.

Remedying food insecurity in Israel would do the same. Food insecurity is widely considered as a lack of consistent access to balanced, nutritious food sources. Many in Israel suffer from food insecurity and the number continues to climb.

The Latet organization’s yearly Alternative Poverty Report revealed that the 20.1% of Israeli households in poverty grew to 29.3% in 2020 due to COVID-19.

So naturally, food insecurity has worsened because of the pandemic. The number of food-insecure households in Israel grew from 17.8% before the pandemic to 22.6% in December 2020. Further, the number of households in extreme food insecurity increased by 34,000 during the pandemic, per the National Insurance Institute of Israel.

There is a great need to address the dilemma of food waste and food insecurity in Israel.

Leket Israel

Leket Israel is an organization that recognizes the importance of addressing the increased need for more accessible food sources and reducing food waste. Joseph Gitler started an organization in 2003 that would become Leket Israel, a food bank and the largest food rescue chain in the country.

Specifically, Leket takes nutritional food excesses and distributes them to thousands of Israelis who need them. The food provided mostly consists of agricultural surpluses and gathered cooked meals that would become food waste, with special focus on the quality and nutritional value of the food distributed to beneficiaries across Israel.

Nutritional Education

Within food insecure populations that do not have access to reliable nutritious food, there can also be a lack of knowledge about balanced nutrition. For this reason, Leket Israel implements multiple nutrition workshops to make its impact and fight to promote food security more lasting. Nutritional workshops involve lessons on how to select and prepare diverse, healthy meals on a restricted budget. They are given in Hebrew, Amharic, Arabic and Russian to increase accessibility.

There is a greater demand for the work that Leket Israel is doing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in food insecurity across Israel. The organization’s affirmative response to this demand is undeniable. Take, for example, the experience of Natalie Digora. During the pandemic, Leket Israel is helping people like Natalie Digora in Ramat Gan, Israel, who turned to the organization after being sent home from her occupation as an opera singer in March 2020. They have continued serving her.

Turning Food Trash into Food Treasure

Digora’s story is one of thousands. To date, Leket Israel has served more than 2,300,000 cooked meals to more than 200,000 individuals. As it continues this, turning one person’s trash into another’s treasure, Leket gives hope to people struggling with food insecurity in Israel.

– Claire Kirchner
Photo: Flickr