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Thursday, 6 December 2007

Happy Hanukah from IRAC

Happy Hanukah. I have a present for you. This week I am giving you good
news. I realize that IRAC and I are regularly the bearers of bad news,
stirring up the pot, and highlighting the problems in Israeli society.
You should know though that we are also very actively involved in
creating and proposing positive solutions. This month IRAC successfully
advocated for a new policy that will help reduce nutritional insecurity
in Israel. We call it nutritional insecurity because people in Israel
are not starving. However, poverty does prevent many Israelis from
receiving sufficient healthy and nutritious food. IRAC is proud to help
lead the way to end this phenomenon.

IRAC's Lobbying Helps Pass Israel's Good Samaritan Law in the Knesset
Nutritional Insecurity in Israel
Over one million Israelis suffer from "nutritional insecurity".
According to the National Insurance Institute every third child in
Israel lives under the poverty line. These cold statistics paint a
rather bleak human picture. Poverty in Israel transcends religious,
ethnic and denominational lines and is a multicoloured. Haredi and
secular Jews, Russian and Ethiopian olim and Arab Israelis all encounter
the same difficulty when it comes to meeting the mortgage and health
insurance payments, buying books and school supplies for their children
and putting dinner on the table every night.
Fortunately, Israel has a variety of non-governmental organizations,
like IRAC's humanitarian aid project, Keren B'Kavod, that provide basic
nutritional necessities, health and hygiene needs and cultural
enrichment activities for the poor. Without a doubt, emergency help on
an individual basis to disadvantaged families is invaluable. Yet, IRAC
believes that it is only one of the ways to help alleviate and
eventually eradicate poverty in Israel. Our advocacy department recently
led a trip of Knesset members to the US to see successful models of food
projects. In a related effort, our lobbyist succeeded in helping pass
new legislation that promotes private food donations
Finding Long-term Solutions
IRAC's Advocacy Efforts
There is a compelling need for change on a larger scale, in legislation
and public discourse, in order to promote social responsibility and
charitable giving among Israelis. This is why Knesset Advocacy and
lobbying is an ongoing vital part of IRAC's work. In the past year
IRAC's full-time lobbyist and representatives from the legal department
engaged in public advocacy on behalf of numerous social, religious and
economic issues. Our lobbyist, Lauren Poris, has worked in the Knesset
for the past 20 years; she knows the Knesset halls as well as the back
of her hand. For almost two years, IRAC has been lobbying on behalf of a
great coalition of organizations called the Forum to Address Food
Insecurity and Poverty in Israel in support of the Shelei Mitzvah law.
The Israeli Good Samaritan Law
The Shlehei Mitzvah Law is the Israeli equivalent of the Good Samaritan
Law, which allows restaurants, hotels and function halls to donate food
to organizations that distribute food to the needy without the fear of
being subjected to lawsuits with regard to the quality and the freshness
of the products. As of now, about 25% of all food prepared by these
institutions is being thrown away. This fact is both alarming and
shameful when considering the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who
suffer from nutritional insecurity. On November 14th, the Knesset passed
the Shlehei Mitzvah law for which IRAC has lobbied long and hard. With
this, Israel joins the ranks of other Western nations like the United
States, Canada and United Kingdom who have opened the door for donors to
contribute food to organizations working to end hunger and poverty in
their countries.
Engaging the Israeli Government
Knesset Delegation to Washington DC
IRAC's lobbying in favour of Shlehei Mitzvah law is only one example of
our efforts to encourage the Israeli government to increase and
strengthen its commitment to nutritional security policies. Early this
September, IRAC together with its partners The Forum to Address Food
Insecurity, the Religious Action Centre of Washington DC and Mazon: A
Jewish Response to Hunger, led a delegation of eight Knesset members
from five different political parties on a three-day mission to
Washington D.C to address the issue of nutritional insecurity in Israel.
The delegation crossed political party lines and included religious and
secular Knesset Members from the right and the left
of the political spectrum.
The legislators began their mission with a comprehensive briefing and
tour of the Capitol Area Food Bank of Greater Washington, D.C. This was
followed by meetings with congress-people, advocates, policy makers, and
agency directors. The legislators also met with the undersecretary and
senior staff of the United States Department of Agriculture, visited a
school lunch program site, and met with the leadership of City Harvest
in New York City. The meetings focused on role of the federal government
and its commitment to a range of federally sponsored nutritional
assistance programs such as school breakfast and lunch programs, food
stamps, agricultural surplus distributions, etc.
An Israeli Food Bank
The Knesset members decided to form a Knesset lobby to promote food
security; and expressed their support for the establishment of Leket:
The Israel Food Bank. They proposed that the Minister of Agriculture
examine the possibility of transferring agricultural food surpluses to
the Food Bank in order to ensure nutritional health and food security
nationally. Additional legislative ideas were proposed, and will be
advanced in the coming months with the goal of ensuring that the
government of Israel takes responsibility for shaping nutritional policy
for all citizens.
IRAC's Knesset advocacy is an essential part of our efforts to promote a
more just and conscientious social policy in Israel. Furthermore, IRAC
lobbying capabilities are also been utilized by a variety of Israeli
social-justice and civil-rights organizations who do not have a lobbyist
of their own. With the help of Lauren Poris, IRAC has been able to gain
the trust and support of Knesset Members who are not necessarily
affiliated with the Reform Movement. By widening the coalition of IRAC's
supporters, we guarantee progress of our work on a national scale.

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