Government closes ears to pleas from deaf kids’ nonprofit

Shema says it’ll collapse if it doesn’t get more funding, while the Welfare Ministry downplays the organization’s reach

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Several organizations representing Israel's deaf and hearing impaired communities protest on December 30 2012 in Tel Aviv (Tali Mayer/Flash90)
Several organizations representing Israel's deaf and hearing impaired communities protest on December 30 2012 in Tel Aviv (Tali Mayer/Flash90)

A nonprofit that provides social services for deaf and hearing-impaired Israeli children and teenagers warned that it is on the verge of collapse after the Welfare Ministry reduced its funding and skirted government efforts to restore its original budget.

The Shema Center for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, founded in 1968, was protesting in Tel Aviv on Thursday over the ministry’s refusal to increase its funding.

An open letter from Arik Meir, the director of the organization, published by the Ynet news website this week maintained that the Welfare and Education ministries ignored a lawmaker’s instructions to increase the budget following a July 2015 Knesset committee meeting. Later attempts to schedule meetings with Welfare Ministry officials to resolve the issue went unheeded, he maintained.

“It’s unfortunate that we have reached such a low point, but if we do not receive help and find an immediate solution to the situation, we will be forced to close the organization, sadly and with a lot of pain,” he wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am very much saddened that the children are the only ones hurt [here] and that the state does not see that.”

According to Meir, the organization helps hundreds of young people aged 6-21. Its 2015 budget was NIS 5.2 million ($1.3 million), with just 7.5 percent of that sum coming from donations.

The organization also trains teachers in how to facilitate better learning for hard-of-hearing-children in the classrooms and provides other services to such children and their parents.

Late last year, Haaretz reported that the government slashed Shema’s budget by some 30% (from NIS 580,000/$153,000 in 2013 to NIS 400,000/$105,000 in 2015), leaving it with a NIS 1 million ($264,000) deficit as of last month.

But the Welfare Ministry this week downplayed the organization’s significance, maintaining that it provides treatment to just some 65 Israeli children.

“The Shema nonprofit is not the only organization that deals with the deaf and hard of hearing,” it said in a statement. “The Welfare Ministry puts a special emphasis on treatment for these populations, and therefore has many programs benefiting them, and just in the last year, the ministry multiplied the budgets for various organizations, including for Shema.”

The ministry said its overall budget for assistance to the deaf was NIS 35 million ($9.2 million), but claimed that the “scope of [Shema’s] activities is very limited (treats only 65 children) and it is not working to change this.”

The ministry said it could not increase Shema’s budget, since it must allocate the resources equally between the organizations.

Shema, in response, denied that it only treats 65 children, and said it is the sole organization in Israel assisting deaf kids and teenagers in this age range, with the exception of the hard-of-hearing in the ultra-Orthodox community, which has its own organizations.

It said that 130 kids nationwide are “active in our frameworks,” and hundreds of other children, teenagers, and their parents are benefiting from their services.

“Therefore, it’s unclear to us how the ministry arrived at the figures it presented (just 65 children),” it said.

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