Social problems are a threat to Israeli democracy, the same as Israel’s security problems. The Knesset needs to set into law norms laid down by the Supreme Court. The State of Israel’s claim regarding only gradual rights realization due to a lack of funds are simply irrelevant: Thus states retired judge Dorit Beinisch, former President of the Supreme Court, at the inaugural meeting of the Legal Forum (for Marginalized Populations), founded by YEDID:
“Social problems are a threat to democracy, the same as Israel’s security problems, and the political system is unwilling to admit this,” said the retired Supreme Court President, Judge Dorit Beinisch, at the inaugural meeting of the Legal Forum for Marginalized Populations, founded by YEDID. Dozens of lawyers from the public, academic, and private practices - large and small - and legal advisors from various social organizations took part in this first meeting of the forum.
Participants included: ACRI, Enosh, the Legal Aid Department in the Ministry of Justice, representatives from the Department of Counseling and Legislation at the Ministry of Justice, lawyers from the law firms of Gornitzky, Shapiro and Hoenig, legal clinics from the Ono Academic College Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University, and NGO’s Tmura - The Israeli Public Service Venture Fund , All Rights, the Task Force on Human Trafficking, and many others.
“Within the state’s priorities it is difficult to realize the goals that we wish to advance,” said Judge Beinisch. “We see marginalized populations, our society is complex and in many ways divided, and we see the results in the field. Everyone here today knows what the reality out there is like, and can do much more to help than the formal institutions.”
According to Beinisch, “over the last decade there’s been a real change in the public discourse regarding social issues. The question is how to we move from speaking to action. Rhetoric is the beginning of any public struggle (basic rights, human dignity), and this rhetoric has trickled down to the entire population. Additionally, social issues have surfaced because the awareness about these issues has grown, and this is part of social change. The social conversation has become a debate, we saw it in the last elections. However, this is only the beginning of the process - we’re moving from the conversation stage to taking action, the political agenda is not enough.”
“In the legal sphere there’s been a shift - the law is a social tool, and societal problems make their way to the Supreme Court. Over the last decade there have been noticeable legal changes. The law has a central role to play in social change, but it is not the only tool - legislature and social action also play a part. Nevertheless, actual implementation is often done through the Supreme Court.”
Beinisch further noted that “the Supreme Court has recognized that there is a right to minimal existence with dignity. The question is how broadly this right can be expanded. The correct way to proceed is for the norms that have been designated by the Supreme Court to be set down as law by the Knesset. We need to create a strict mechanism for examining rights. The tools need to come from legislation, and the monitoring will be done by the Supreme Court and the Labor Court. The social organizations are one of the most important tools, because they are the voice of those vulnerable populations, and they are the ones that turn to the courts to help these populations realize their rights.”
She added that, “with regards to rights realization, the state claims that it is dependent upon existing funds, and that rights must be actualized gradually and regressively. However, the right to a dignified human existence has become an integral part of human rights. As such, the state’s claims are no long relevant, just as they are not relevant to the right to protest or to unionize - rights that are also dependent upon funding.”
The judge praised YEDID for establishing the Legal Forum, and said that “this is such an important initiative, and I want to thank YEDID for putting it together. About a year ago, attorneys Ruth Fogel-Amit and Vardit Dameri-Madar, Director of YEDID’s Legal Department, turned to me with the idea for the forum and to ask me to join. I didn’t hesitate, because I believe that the people and organizations that are here today can make a real impact in the social field.”
MK Karin Elharar, the Chair of the Knesset’s State Audit Affairs Committee, also participated in the forum: “Knesset Members are eager to legislate social laws, which are why we must increase our activities in this field and anchor it in legislation. This is not about charity; rather, it is about the legislative duty of the government.” She added that “there is a spirited ideological debate among the Ministry of Finance and the other government offices that oppose legislating social laws because of the necessary budgetary concessions that will have to be made. Government offices are not interested in such laws, which necessitate a more significant transfer of funds.”
MK Elharar commended the activities undertaken by the lawyers of the social organizations as well as social activists, and noted that, “day in and day out, social lawyers find themselves pitted against a battery of lawyers representing banks or other strong social organizations. In this respect, there has been a major change in the Knesset’s activities - the Knesset has become more social. If in the past social organizations could only depend on one or two Knesset Members, now many Knesset Members want to be labeled social.”
During the wide scale discussion that developed after these opening remarks a variety of topics were raised regarding the legal and other barriers that prevent marginalized populations from breaking through the glass ceiling and living with dignity. One of the issues that many participants raised was household debts: “There is tight connection between debts and poverty - many of the people we meet started off with a small debt, which they were either unable to pay or the other side was unwilling to compromise on. This debt then ballooned and doomed the debtor and his family to a life of poverty, despair, and need.”
At the end of the discussion the forum decided to create work groups of lawyers from across the different disciplines. Over the coming months, the groups will prepare operative proposals for changing legislation and policy. Together, these groups will form a coordinated, synergetic body for protecting and promoting the rights of marginalized populations in Israel.