Disabled protesters clash with Jerusalem police, try to set selves on fire
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Disabled protesters clash with Jerusalem police, try to set selves on fire

Demonstrators say new plan to increase disability stipends falls short of their demands for minimum wage equivalent

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

An activist tries to set himself on fire at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An activist tries to set himself on fire at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Disabled demonstrators scuffled with police and tried to set themselves on fire Tuesday evening outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem during a protest against a proposed increase to their disability stipends, which activists say is insufficient.

At the demonstration, two protesters began pouring gasoline on themselves but were stopped by police officers who grabbed the gasoline containers. One of the protesters managed to pour the liquid on himself but was prevented from setting it alight, police said in a statement.

Protesters then attempted to set a wheelchair-bound doll on fire, but police put it out with fire extinguishers, the statement added.

The incident came amid fierce clashes between police and protesters who say that a proposal to nearly double their monthly stipend still falls short of their demands that it be made equivalent to the minimum wage.

Protesters later moved to block the main road leading into Jerusalem, stopping traffic shortly after 8 p.m, according to police.

A separate protest by parents of children being treated in a Jerusalem cancer ward against a court ruling was taking place near the Chords Bridge at the city’s western entrance at the same time.

Police said there were no arrests.

The protest was the latest in a series of escalating actions protesters have taken to push for an increase in state benefits. In past weeks, protesters have held several demonstrations, blocking Tel Aviv thoroughfares and a main highway to Ben-Gurion airport after media reports that a government committee planned to recommend cutting a promised increase in allotments.

Last week, lawmakers from across the political spectrum urged the government to accept the new plan would raise the monthly stipend from NIS 2,342 ($660) to NIS 4,000 ($1,130).

The new stipend level would be linked to the minimum wage, which is raised periodically through Knesset legislation. The stipend is currently linked to the consumer price index, which rises slower than the minimum wage does.

Activists set fire to a doll in a wheelchair at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Activists set fire to a doll in a wheelchair at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The proposal is a compromise between the demands of disability activists, including MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz, to set the stipend at the minimum wage, or NIS 5,000 ($1,400) per month, and those of a committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is expected to recommend a more modest increase to NIS 3,200 ($900), and limit the stipend to those with very severe disabilities and no family.

The current plan is slated to be brought to the Knesset as a bill next month, with lawmakers saying they will demand government backing to ensure the bill passes into law by November, allowing the new stipend levels to begin to go into force from January 1, 2018.

Activists clash with police at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Activists clash with police at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Gilon, who is himself wheelchair-bound and represented Meretz at the Thursday press conference, called the plan “a compromise, a concession. I wanted [the stipend] to reach the minimum wage, but the important thing is the linkage to the minimum wage. That’s a fundamental change to the way the nation’s wealth is distributed.”

In April, after a slew of protests, including a hunger strike, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced a 50 percent increase in monthly disability benefits for the over 200,000 Israelis who receive the financial assistance.

MK's Karin Elharar (L) and Ilan Gillon (2R) at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK’s Karin Elharar (L) and Ilan Gillon (2R) at a protest calling to increase disability stipends outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As a result of the NIS 4 billion ($1.1 billion) he allocated, those entitled to monthly disability benefits were due to receive NIS 3,800 ($1,035) a month, up from the NIS 2,342 ($640) they currently receive, phased in over a period of five years, according to Hebrew media reports.

The benefit program followed the recommendations of a committee established by a former Finance Ministry accountant general, Yaron Zelekha.

But in May, it was decided that another committee would be established — this time led by Avi Simchon, chairman of the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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