Last month, Israel’s cabinet accomplished a significant feat — not only did the Knesset pass a national budget for the first time since 2018, but, for the first time ever in Israel, the 2021-2022 budget includes a permanent line item to address food security. Past budgets have included provisional allocations for food and hunger-related programs, but the Israeli government has never introduced the permanent, secured funding provided in this budget. While the Knesset’s budget allocation — 46 million shekels (the equivalent of about $14.6 million) plus an additional 60 million shekels (about $19 million) for food security in other budget lines — is less than MAZON and our partners called for, we are hopeful that future budgets will provide greater relief for the estimated two million hungry Israelis.
This victory resulted from a hard-fought, years-long campaign championed by MAZON, building and leading a coalition of 15 partners on the ground throughout Israel. Together, our coalition exerted pressure on Israeli policymakers, demanding that they act with urgency to invest in food security programs.
Food security has been a growing concern in many countries for the better part of a decade, and Israel is no exception. By incorporating funding for food programs, the Knesset has for the first time acknowledged that it is the responsibility of the Israeli government — not charitable organizations or community leaders — to address the problem of chronic food insecurity. In Israel, just as we saw worldwide, the pandemic exacerbated existing challenges and tested the limits of social safety nets — by the end of 2020, an additional estimated 124,000 Israelis were food insecure, on top of the 1.8 million people who were already considered food insecure. As in many other countries, a patchwork of charitable organizations sprung up to try to meet the needs of many struggling households, but policy-driven solutions from lawmakers have not kept pace. According to some estimates, the state contributes less than 3 percent of the roughly NIS 2 billion (some $645 million) invested annually in food aid across the country.
The need for a government response to hunger became even clearer through the pandemic, and MAZON responded with new advocacy efforts to meet the need. At the beginning of this year, MAZON and our partners began an intense ad campaign, which included a billboard on the main road into Tel Aviv, imploring the Israeli government to take immediate action to address food insecurity. Then in the spring, we partnered with celebrity chef Israel Aharoni on a video where he took a powerful stance, saying that “food security is a basic right that a state must provide to everyone who lives in it.” Before the national election, we held dozens of meetings with candidates from all political parties to discuss the many ways the government must address food insecurity. Then in August, MAZON’s coalition initiated the launch of a new Knesset caucus on “Food Rescue and Food Security” — the majority of Knesset’s 120 Members have already joined the caucus, and we will continue to make sure hunger remains a prominent, priority issue for the Knesset.
The recently-approved new budget is a significant win for MAZON and our partners and provides an important first step towards addressing the Israeli government’s long-standing failure to take responsibility for food insecurity in the country. After years of piecemeal allocations that merely kept the state’s National Food Security Program afloat, a permanent annual budget will allow thousands of low-income families to participate in an ongoing pilot program guaranteeing sustenance for needy families.
Acts of tzedakah, charity, are an intrinsic part of Judaism. But just like in the U.S., charitable organizations can never feed every hungry person in their community. They were conceived to meet short-term needs and respond to emergency situations. Systemic problems like food insecurity demand systemic solutions, the likes of which only lawmakers and governments can provide.
The detrimental effects of food insecurity can extend far beyond individual instances of hunger. It can inhibit a person’s productivity at work, or negatively impact someone’s ability to get a job. For children, hunger can negatively affect their physical development and make it nearly impossible to learn, the impacts of which often remain with a person for their entire life. Having a sizable population of hungry people — adults or children — impedes economic prosperity for all Israelis, so it falls to everyone to ensure that food insecurity is adequately addressed by the Knesset.
The inclusion of permanent funding for food security programs marks a historic and important first step for Israel. It must not, however, be the last. MAZON will continue to push for full funding of food security programs in Israel until the issue of hunger — like the pandemic — is a relic of the past.
For more information about how to get involved in these efforts, please contact Naama Haviv, MAZON’s Vice President of Community Engagement, learn more at mazon.org/israel, and check out our Hebrew-language website (mazon-israel.org), which includes a clearinghouse for stories, research, data, and publications about the scope of food insecurity in Israel.