Israeli single mothers campaign against welfare cuts, 2003

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Timing
Time Period:  
2 July
2003
to
August
2003
Location and Goals
Country: 
Israel
Location City/State/Province: 
Jerusalem
Location Description: 
Women from all of Israel came in support to the nation's capital.
Goals: 
The women wanted to reverse cuts made to their welfare benefits
 

On 29 June 2003, the Israeli Ministry of Finance amended the Hok HaHasderim, a bill passed in 1985 in order to combat existing hyperinflation and aid in the creation and development of an austerity program. The late June amendment enormously decreased single mothers’ welfare allowances. Single mothers across the nation, who were already struggling to make ends meet, were both hurt and angered by the amendment. On 2 July 2003, one such woman, a 43-year-old single mother named Vicky Knafo, marched two-hundred and fifty kilometers from her home in Mitzpe Ramon to Jerusalem. Vicky Knafo said, “I’m marching on Jerusalem for thousands of Israeli single moms. Enough’s enough. Up to June 29, we were big-time Likudniks and voted for Benjamin Netanyahu (Financial Minister). He gonna hear no more from me! Please help me find places to refill water and spend the night.” She proceeded to set up a camp outside of the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem. After her plea was made, Ahoti (Hebrew for Sister), a women’s activism group in Israel, began to aid Vicky Knafo by protecting her from police who were attempting to arrest her for blocking traffic. They introduced her to the media and Vicky was able to tell her story on television, inciting others to march to Jerusalem as well.

One week after Vicky Knafo first marched to Jerusalem, 100 single mothers and their children demonstrated at the home of Prime Mistier Ariel Sharon, waving banners, chanting, and demanding that their welfare benefits not be cut. On 13 July two groups of women from Ofakim and Sderot began to march to Jerusalem, and groups of mothers from Upper Nazareth, Hatzor Haglilit, and Karmiel all pledged to soon march to the city.

On 15 July, Benjamin Netanyahu, Financial Minister, addressed the women by cancelling a visit to the United States so that he could remain in Israel in order to show that he recognized their campaign. Nevertheless he stated in one press release, ‘The message of this plan is go to work. We will help you. But we will not negotiate with the single mothers about reinstating the allowances.” This denial only impassioned the women in the ever-expanding camp more. While emotions did run high in the camp both due to the importance of the issue and the fervor of the sentiments, potluck meals, meetings, and other events fostered a familial environment there.

Tensions also ran high in the government. After women were removed from a parliament chamber because they were “heckling” Benjamin Netanyahu, the politicians engaged in their own war of words over the issue. While economically it seemed more beneficial not to reinstate the allowances, many morally sided with the women. The religious-political party Shas was composed of many Orthodox Jews and heavily supported the women. Many Orthodox Jews did not work because of their beliefs and religious studies, and they were most likely going to face the worst of the cuts because of this.

After three weeks the city authorities began to take action against the women in order to make them leave. The women had rigged electricity supply to the camp, but the authorities cut it off. Officials told guards at the Knesset that the women were not allowed to shower in the members’ bathrooms. Still, Jerusalem citizens took the women in their cars to their homes so that they could bathe and do their laundry.

Despite this support, the strain of the campaign began to wear on the women. While they had initially been united in their strategies, countless failed meetings with government officials in the Finance Ministry began to change the minds of some of those involved. The camp split into two sides, the Southerners, led by Vicky Knafo, and the Jerusalemites led by Ayala Sebeg. The Southerners preferred to continue their “quiet”, nonviolent protests including marches, demonstrations, protest tents, and meetings. The Jerusalemites believed that continuing this would accomplish nothing. They wanted a militant strategy without violence. Said Ayala Sebeg, “We don’t believe in violence; that’s a lie and a slur.” Rather, the Jerusalemites wanted to lay in the roads, thus blocking junctions, and take other, “louder,” actions. They were inspired by the Argentinian women who had demonstrated over the disappearance of their children.

On 28 July, six women, including Vicky Knafo went to the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry in order to meet with Minister Zevulun Orley only to discover that there were already fifteen Jerusalemite women there. An argument ensued and the meeting had to be cancelled. On 29 July each group met with Labor and Social Affairs Ministry General Director Dov Glodberger separately. Neither meeting accomplished anything. Eti Yekutiel, a Southerner leader, saw that the rift could potentially thwart any success and met with Ran Melamed of the Shatil organization, which aided in the establishment and development of social volunteer groups. These groups, in addition to members of the Kibbutz Movement and the Center for Progressive Judaism, held a “special cultural evening” for all of the single mothers in order to reunite them under their common goal.

On 8 August 2003, in one of the last major demonstrations by the women, 180 people camped out along the boulevard facing the Finance Ministry, waving banners, speaking with passersby, and pleading their case to anyone who would listen. In early August, the campaign began to lose public support according to polls. Vicky Knafo believed that this was due to other groups attempting to profit from the women’s momentum, thus broadening the campaign to address more than simply single mothers’ welfare being cut. The women were portrayed as lazy by the media, and new economic figures from the Finance Ministry made many believe that the economy was beginning to turn around.

While the Southerners continued their quiet campaign, the Jerusalemites wrapped themselves in newspapers and created a blockade on a main road, portraying “all the stories of hardship written in the papers which are then discarded in the trash.” The media began to show these cracks and popular support continued to deplete. Eventually, as other issues began to grasp the attention of the public the single mothers were forgotten, their calls for the welfare cuts to be reversed never answered.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Argentian women demonstrating against the disappearances of their children. (1)

Sources: 
"Israeli Mothers Protest against Benefit Cuts." BBC News. BBC, 15 July 2003. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3067419.stm>.

King, Laura. "Single Moms' Beef Draws Israel's Focus Home." LosAngelesTimes.com. Los Angeles Times, 18 July 2003. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jul/18/world/fg-welfare18>.

Lavie, Smadar. The Knafo Chronicles: Marching on Jerusalem With Israel’s Silent Majority. Sage Journals. Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota–Minneapolis, Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. <http://aff.sagepub.com/content/27/3/300>.

Myre, Greg. "Israel's Steps to Stem Economic Slide Draw Praise and Protests." NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 20 July 2003. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/20/world/israel-s-steps-to-stem-economic-slide-draw-praise-and-protests.html>.

Sinai, Ruth. "Single Moms' Protest Drive Gathers Steam." Haaretz.com. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd., 13 July 2003. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/single-moms-protest-drive-gathers-steam-1.93988>.

"Single-Mothers' Protest: Differing Views - Inside Israel - News - Israel National News." Israel National News. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/46707>.

Shadmi, Haim. “Ugly Schism Splits Single Moms’ Movement.”

Haaretz.com. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd., 30 July 2003. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/single-moms-protest-drive-gathers-steam-1.93988>.

Uli, Schmetzer. "In Israel, a Protest Is Born." ChicagoTribune.com. The Chicago Tribune, 24 July 2003. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-07-24/news/0307240193_1_netanyahu-tents-israeli/2>.

Wohlgelernter, Elli. "Single Mothers' Protest Losing Support." The Jewish Daily Forward. Forward Association, Inc., 8 Aug. 2003. Web. 31 Mar. 2013. <http://forward.com/articles/7844/single-mothers-protest-losing-support/>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Jessica Seigel, 30/03/2013