The High Court of Justice decides to allow the rollout of a controversial government food stamp program ahead of the upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday, but orders the government to review the eligibility criteria for future allocations scheduled for 2024.
Last Thursday the court issued a temporary injunction against the program and halted its rollout, in response to petitions that argued that it prioritized ultra-Orthodox families while other citizens also facing food insecurity were not eligible for the food vouchers.
The ruling clears the way for the distribution of NIS 400 million in food vouchers two days before the Jewish New Year, with a specific emphasis on families with large numbers of children. However, another NIS 600 million set to be handed out next year is frozen until a further ruling is made by the High Court.
The money was allocated for distribution last week by the Knesset Finance Committee under a budget item designed to advance food security for citizens lacking a regular source of healthy nutrition. The program is largely the brainchild of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the Interior Ministry run by Shas minister Moshe Arbel.
Yifat Sollel, deputy director of the Hiddush organization, one of the petitioners in the case, charges that the program is designed to subsidize lavish holiday feasts for religious celebrants, noting that food insecurity is already addressed by a state food stamp program.
“Food insecurity and poverty are being confused here in order to justify criteria that favor the ultra-Orthodox public,” she says. “The ultra-Orthodox public suffers from poverty, and does not suffer from food insecurity. The state food security project… distributes monthly cards, and along with them it creates a process of building and enabling the families to eat healthily and to manage their finances properly and educates on healthy nutrition and also distributes baskets of fruits and vegetables… Instead of adding funds to a project that does promote food security, Deri and his friends cynically want to hand out gifts for the holidays.”
Arbel welcomes the decision, however, saying the program would help “hundreds of thousands of people in the State of Israel from all sectors without exception.”