Last month, MAZON’s Israel Director, Ishai Menuchin, was invited to join The Academy of Sciences and Humanities international conference, “Food Insecurity — The Continuing Pandemic: Toward Sustainable Food Systems for Israel.”
In a panel discussion on the politics and economy of food security, Ishai discussed MAZON’s work to build long-term, sustainable solutions to hunger in Israel, the need to build political will, and the historic advancements MAZON has achieved — this year, for the first time ever, Israel allocated money to address food security in the budget.
You can watch Ishai’s remarks (in Hebrew), or read them (in English) below:
The Politics and Economy of Food Security
Question: Who is responsible and what is required to provide an appropriate solution [to food insecurity]?
Ishai: I work in Israel on behalf of an American organization — MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. I work with 17 social change organizations that are very concerned about the fact that no one is taking responsibility for food security. While it is the duty of the state to ensure that no one is living in hunger, the Israeli government has not addressed the issue since 1985, in the famous economic plan of Shimon Peres. Since then, the State of Israel has increasingly renounced social services in general, as well as the basic right not to be hungry.
Today, I learned something new. Food security has many aspects. Many talk about the cost of living, because it interests the middle class and its parties. Others talk about healthy food — the Ministry of Health, for example, talks about healthy food. It is their duty. Today, I learned about another perspective of food security that is biased by interests — of farmers, and of food producers, who use food security to explain why they should be supported.
The aspect that no one takes care of, and that there is no political will to solve, is the food insecurity of the poor in Israeli society. Political will must be expressed in the budget. You can see when a lot of words are said about poverty and food security, but no one is allocating money for it in the budget. There is no political will here, only a desire to win credit for the “right” position — but these are just words.
So, there is no political will. There is no budget. Or, there is a small budget now, but there are no goals. The State of Israel conducts itself without setting goals regarding food security or food rescuing, or other related issues.
If there are no goals, there are also no strategies for how to solve the problematic situation, or how to deal with the current situation and prevent it from existing. This leads to the situation where there is a lack of information. No one collects the information systematically, except for the National Security Institute every few years. The Central Bureau of Statistics does not regularly collect this. And, of course, no one checks what is happening in underprivileged populations. No surveys are conducted, for example, among the Bedouin in unrecognized villages. The same is true among asylum seekers. Without civil society organizations, much of the information regarding the black hole of Israeli society would not exist.
When there is no political will, there is also no sharing of resources. Elliot talked about 11 governmental offices that deal with poverty and food insecurity. But when there are so many offices, it is a sign that there is really no one taking responsibility for the issue.
Look, this year, for the first time, and following pressure from social organizations, the state budget allocated money for food security — 46 million NIS in the base budget and another 60 million in the regular budget. But the actual cost of assuring food security for the hungry in the State of Israel is 1.5-2 billion NIS per year. The Israeli government gives less than 5% of the resources needed.
I looked at the U.S. government’s food security budgets — the symbol of capitalism and neoliberalism. It is $68 billion. 12% of U.S. residents, and not only citizens — 1 in 9 people receives food support. And in Israel, the food security project, which is the flagship project of the Ministry of Welfare, has a budget of 60 million NIS per year. Mind you, most o the money does not come from the state budget: 20 million is from the state, 35 million is from philanthropists abroad, and 5 million is from local authorities. This project supports 10,800 families.
What about the additional 120,000 families suffering severe food insecurity? Who is responsible for them?