The deliberations of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on disability benefits were blown up Tuesday afternoon, after one of the handicapped activists called out to a disabled person who was testifying that she was living in poverty and could not wait to receive an upgrade to the minimum wage: “Stand at an intersection,” meaning she should become a prostitute, according to a Knesset press release.
Committee chairman MK Elie Elalouf (Kulanu) and MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) demanded that the rude activist be removed from the committee chamber, at which point several activists resisted the order and some of them reacted violently – and one activist stabbed another activist with his pen.
A few Knesset ushers who tried to impose order were harmed by the violent activists.
Chairman Elalouf then brought the meeting to an end and announced that he would consider holding the next meetings without the participation of some of the activists. “The committee will convene for intensive debates starting next week in order to promote the law,” he promised.
Israelis with disabilities have been protesting their meager monthly pensions since the summer, on a number of occasions slowing down or completely blocking traffic on major highways during rush hour. Police, who in the beginning were reluctant to restrain men and women in wheelchairs, eventually started to do their jobs and removed the handicapped from the highways. Israelis were initially sympathetic to the cause of the disabled, but after spending hours at a standstill on the highways, the handicapped have lost a lot of their popular support.
At the very start of the committee meeting Tuesday, MK Elalouf was forced to interrupt the proceedings, after one of the activists yelled, “Sut up!” at MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), and refused to leave the chamber. Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) left the meeting in protest, followed by Elalouf and the rest of the committee members.
The debate was resumed 15 minutes later, at which point some disabled activists yelled at MKs and at Histadrut labor union chairman Avi Nissenkorn: “You sold us out – we’ll never agree to increases in stages.”
Minister Katz told the committee there was no way his office could come up with an upgrade from the current benefits, which have been set for 15 years at $667 a month, to the Israeli minimum wage of $1,235 for 186 monthly hours. He promised to submit a lower amount that would cover all the needy populations. “Let’s be realistic,” he said.
However, Katz was challenged by a powerful member of his own party, coalition chairman MK David Bitan, who said that the budget for minister’s proposal was still being debated, with a resolution expected only in two years, if at all. “Therefore, I asked that the private bills submitted by MKs Gilon (Meretz), Kish (Likud) and Elharar (yesh Atid) be debated.”
“We will pass amendments according to the already agreed upon outline,” Bitan announced defiantly. “By the third week in December this law will pass, so that by January people will receive their first increase.”
“I can no longer wait for the government,” Bitan said.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein addressed the incident in a statement, saying: “I am shocked by the grave incident that took place at the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee. The Knesset is a place for discussion and debate, but never a place for violence. With all the understanding of the importance of the struggle of the disabled, which is very emotional, as well as other struggles – no one is allowed to use violence, and I also call on all the leaders of this struggle to denounce those who do so.”