Friday, April 5, 2013

Israel's social challenges

I've spent the last few days giving briefings to JDC supporters, specifically on Israel's greatest social challenges. The presentation has to provide people with a framework that's simple enough to be meaningful, but complex enough to provide "answers" on what these challenges contain.

With that in mind, I've tried to focus on three main areas of concern, showing how they impact Israeli society, what their impact has been, and what the Joint is doing about them ....

(1) Poverty. Various indicators show that the OECD poverty rate is about 26%. Israel's is (depending on how you count) 33% ... with demographics such as youth, elderly, Shoah survivors all at that rate of one-third. Some demographics are much, much higher: 58% of Arab-Israelis are under the poverty level. 68% of Ethiopian-Israelis are under the poverty level.

(2) Inequality. Israel's Gini Coefficient (the gap between our richest and poorest) is the widest in the western world. And it's getting wider. And if you thought that the social unrest two years ago, and the Trachtenberg Report, and the election results were the end of the story ... well, to paraphrase Churchill, they weren't even the beginning of the end. They may have been the end of the beginning. Maybe.

(3) Fragmentation. Every modern Western society has perhaps three or four major social cleavages, fissures that divide 'us' from 'them' in our society. Israel has at least 15 - major, significant, wrenching cleavages that disrupt social cohesion and make community-building and civil society more difficult to attain. For example: Left-Right, Center-Periphery, Jews-Arabs, Doves-Hawks, Greenline-Territories, Ashkenazi-Sephardi, Veterans-Immigrants, etc etc. You could probably think of more too.

Once these three issues are framed, we can have a meaningful conversation to have on what we can do and what we are doing.

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