Fighting for Justice with National Insurance

November 4, 2009 by

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Having grown up in a place where people curse the rain and where children sing “rain, rain, go away,” I never cease to marvel at the way native Israelis delight in the rain and truly bless its arrival. The joy Israelis feel for rain is as ancient as the Torah itself – “For the land, which you go to possess, is not as the land of Egypt, from where you came, where you sowed your seed, and watered the land with your foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, which you go to possess, is a land of hills and valleys, and you shall drink water as the rain of heaven comes down.” Unlike the land of Egypt, where the Nile provides an abundance of water, the land of Israel is often beleaguered by drought and water is a precious resource that cannot be taken for granted.

In thinking about these ancient verses and modern-day Israeli reality, a dear friend and Bema’aglei Tzedek supporter coined the term, “the blessing of scarcity.” Israel, as a country, is not blessed with an abundance of natural resources. This very lack of resources, however, is a blessing in disguise. It compels us to roll up our sleeves, tap into our creative energies, look heavenward, and work together to overcome what nature has denied us.

I was reminded of this on Monday when I, along with 40 Bema’aglei Tzedek activists, staged a successful demonstration on behalf of exploited workers in the midst of a torrential downpour.

A little over a year ago, Bema’aglei Tzedek staff and volunteers discovered that Bituach Leumi, the National Insurance Institute, which according to the institute’s official website is “one of the pillars on which the social policy in Israel is built,” outsources its own security and cleaning personnel to a manpower company that blatantly exploits its workers. Believing that Bituach Leumi has an ethical responsibility to ensure that the very people guarding its doors and cleaning its hallways get the same legally-mandated rights that Bituach Leumi is entrusted by the Israeli government to oversee in the rest of the workforce, Bema’aglei Tzedek initiated meetings with senior staff at the institute.

After a year’s worth of meetings and correspondence with Bituach Leumi failed to produce satisfactory results, we brought this issue to the attention of the press. This past Thursday, The Marker, Israel’s premier financial newspaper, published a two-page spread on the issue and Bema’aglei Tzedek’s involvement. And, two days ago, we staged a public demonstration, which was timed perfectly with a Bituach Leumi-scheduled press conference to unleash Bituach Leumi’s annual report on poverty in the State of Israel. In the presence of the Minister of Welfare and Social Services, Isaac Herzog, the CEO of Bituach Leumi, and all of the country’s leading economic and cultural journalists, we respectfully called upon Bituach Leumi to embody the very values it espouses and to take practical steps to end poverty in its own backyard. Over 40 Bema’aglei Tzedek activists – including a large showing of students from the Mechina in Tel Aviv – braved rain, hail, and wind to attend this demonstration.

As a direct result of last Thursday’s article, and Monday’s demonstration, the manpower company, which is in charge of security personnel at Bituach Leumi, distributed checks to its workers for overdue money from the past year and Bituach Leumi’s attorney contacted Bema’aglei Tzedek to schedule a meeting with our staff to see how they can develop an supervisory infrastructure to ensure that the manpower company does not continue to exploit its workers.

Although I am hard at work to ensure that Bema’aglei Tzedek will be blessed with less scarcity (!) in the years to come, it is precisely this blessing that has compelled us to be creative and work together to achieve real societal impact in a short period of time.

May we have many more rainy days to come.

 

Dyonna Ginsburg is the former CEO of Be’Maaglei Tzedek, a non-profit that works for social change based on Jewish values.

Be’Maaglei Tzedek

 

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