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Ideology, Programme and Organizational Factors in Public Assistance: The Case of Israel

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2009

Abraham Doron
Senior Lecturer, Paul Baerwald School of Social Work, Hebrew University.
Ralph M. Kramer
Professor, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley.


While ideology may not explain differences in welfare policy on an international comparative basis, it can help account for the process of policy development in a particular country. In Israel, ideology was very significant in the historical development of public assistance by its influence on social security policy choices concerning the removal of certain groups from the residual programme of public assistance. Indirectly, ideology also shaped the extent and type of convergence of public assistance and social insurance, as well as the relative size and scope of these two benefit systems. It had, however, relatively little influence on the subsequent operating character of the public assistance programme, which seems to have an inner logic, independent of ideology, inhering in its operating principles. The latter — local responsibility, relative liability, less eligibility and means-testing – were reinforced by the organizational character of the sponsoring agency. Because they serve as a residual programme for groups whose claim for support is not yet legitimized, public assistance programmes in most Western countries will confront the same dilemmas and acquire a similar operating character.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1976

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1 Rimlinger, Gaston V., Welfare Policy and Industrialization in Europe, America and Russia, New York: John Wiley, 1971.Google Scholar Embedded in their respective social and economic contexts, some differences in policy outcomes were found which pertain to the degree of protection, the conditions under which rights are awarded, and the meanings attached to them. The degree of representativeness of the government, for example, affects the structure but not the extent of rights.

2 Mishra, Ramesh, ‘Welfare and Industrial Man: Study of Welfare in Western Industrial Societies in Relation to a Hypothesis of Convergence’, Sociological Review, 1973, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 535–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dunning, E. G. and Hopper, E. I., ‘Industrialization and the Problem of Convergence: A Critical Note’, Sociological Review, 1966, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 163–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wilensky, Harold L., The Welfare State and Equality: Structural and Ideological Roots of Public Expenditures, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.Google Scholar

3 On the relative advantages and limitations in the use of comparative and case study methods, including the differential effects of a variable on inter- and intra-system differences, cf. Lijphart, Arend, ‘Comparative Politics and the Comparative Method’, American Political Science Review, 1971, vol. 65, pp. 682–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Lund, Michael S., ‘Comparing the Social Policies of Nations: A Report on Issues, Methods and Resources, Part I, Review of the Literature’Google Scholar, Center for the Study of Welfare Policy, University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, March 1972. The latter contains a comprehensive bibliography of comparative welfare policy studies.

4 Zald, Mayer N. (ed.), Social Welfare Institutions: A Sociological Reader, 1965, New York: John Wiley, p. 141.Google Scholar

5 Eisenstadt, S. N., ‘Israeli Identity: Problems in the Development of the Collective Identity of an Ideological Society’, Annals of the American Academy of Social and Political Science, 1967, 370, pp. 16123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Wilensky, , op. cit., p. 122.Google Scholar

7 Shlakman, Vera, ‘The Safety-Net Function in Public Assistance: A Cross-National Exploration’, Social Service Review, 1972,.vol. 46, no. 2, p. 107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Op. cit., p. 194.Google Scholar

9 On the role of value premises and ideological orientations underlying policy-making, cf. Vickers, Geoffrey, Value Systems and Social Processes, New York: Basic Books, 1968Google Scholar, and Gil, David, Unraveling Social Policy, Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman Publishing Co., 1973, pp. 27–9, 32–3.Google Scholar

10 The ideology of Labor Zionism is discussed in Eisenstadt, S. N., Israeli Society, New York: Basic Books, 1967, pp. 2730, 4454, 7980, 144–8, 151–5Google Scholar; Elon, Amos, The Israelis: Founders and Sons, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971, pp. 82147Google Scholar; Fein, Leonard J., Politics in Israel, Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1967, pp. 33–4, 43, 7980, 152–3.Google Scholar The concept of Israel as a ‘new society’ is developed by Elazar, Daniel J., Israel: From Ideological to Territorial Democracy, New York: General Learning Press, 1971.Google Scholar

11 Cohen, Erik, The City in the Zionist Ideology, Institute of Urban and Regional Studies, Eliezer Kaplan School of Economics and Social Science, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1970.Google Scholar

12 While Israeli public assistance was certainly influenced by the Poor Law experience of the English-speaking and European countries, most of its values were, however, rooted in Biblical as well as, paradoxically, Marxist sources. It will be seen later how the consequences were similar to programmes originating in the Anglo-Saxon culture.

13 Deutsch, Akiva, ‘The Development of Social Work as a Profession in the Jewish Community of Eretz Israel’, Hebrew University, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Sociology, 1971.Google Scholar

14 Neipris, Joseph, ‘Social Services in Israel’, Journal of Jewish Communal Service, 1971, vol. xlvii, no. 4, p. 291.Google Scholar This is the best account in English of the development of the Israeli social services and our discussion draws heavily on it.

16 Similarly, in the United States the development of public assistance in the twentieth century is inseparable from the role of social casework. See Lubove, Roy, The Professional Altruist, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1965CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chambers, Clarke A., Seed Time of Reform: Social Service and Social Action, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963Google Scholar; Steiner, Gilbert, Social Insecurity: The Politics of Welfare, Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1966.Google Scholar

17 General Council (Vaad Leumi) of the Jewish Community in Palestine, Social Work in the Jewish Community – Principles and Foundation, Social Service:Department of the Vaad Leumi, March 1939 (Hebrew). The language here is reminiscent of the professional social work literature of the 1920s in the United States.

18 Neipris, , op. cit.Google Scholar

19 The continuity of the institutional pattern and social structure of the Yishuv is described in Eisenstadt, , op. cit., pp. 5960, 65–8, 151–6Google Scholar; Lissak, Moshe, ‘Patterns of Change in Ideology and Class Structure in Israel’, in Eisenstadt, S. N., Bar-Yosef, Rivkah and Adler, Chaim (eds.), Integration and Development in Israel, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1970, pp. 141–61.Google Scholar An excellent account of the continuities in the political sector is found in Medding, Peter Y., Mapai in Israel: Political Organization and Government in a New Society, London: Cambridge University Press, 1972, pp. 617.Google Scholar

20 Shlonsky, Hagith, ‘Welfare in Israel in a Comparative Perspective’, working paper, Center for the Study of Welfare Policy, University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, 11 1971, pp. 27–9.Google Scholar

21 On the character of the Social Welfare Law see ‘Public Assistance in Israel’, a report to the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds by Silver, Harold, 01 1962Google Scholar, and Salzberger, Lotte and Shnitt, Dan, ‘Social Welfare Legislation in Israel’, Israel Law Review, 1973, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 562–4.Google Scholar The absence of a solid and specific statutory base for governmental service in Israel is found not only in welfare, but also in the fields of housing and health. (Salzberger, and Shnitt, , op. cit., pp. 551–3.Google Scholar) Some see a virtue in this process whereby it ‘allows the law to be relatively brief and the legislature is not obliged to deal with details. Flexibility is insured by the prerogative of the appropriate authority to modify the regulation within a short time, in accordance with actual need.’ Lotan, Giora, National Insurance in Israel, Jerusalem: National Insurance Institute, 1969, p. 29.Google Scholar

22 While the actual cash allocated for relief was below any viable minimum, it was usually supplemented by numerous in-kind benefits and ‘special needs’ such as subsidized rent, medical care, food, allowances for clothing, homemaker help, school supplies, furniture, etc. These had the effect of raising the actual income of many families by as much as 40 per cent. The welfare rates during the sixties and the contradiction between policy and ideology are also noted in Eisenstadt, , Israeli Society, op. cit., pp. 209–10Google Scholar, and in Halevi, N. and Klinov-Malul, R., The Economic Development of Israel, New York: F. D. Praeger, 1967, pp. 281–2.Google Scholar

23 The fear that a higher level of assistance would affect the incentive to work of the new immigrants was repeatedly stressed by a succession of Ministers of Labor. Doron, Abraham, ‘Incentives to Work in the Welfare System’, The Economic Quarterly, 1971, vol. 18, nos. 69–70, pp. 5560.Google Scholar

24 Op. cit., p. 209.Google Scholar

25 Ibid., pp. 211–18; Shlonsky, , op. cit., p. 33.Google Scholar See also Doron, Abraham, ‘Development of National Insurance in Israel 1948–1967’, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, submitted to the Faculty of Economics, University of London, 1967.Google Scholar

26 On the history and development of social insurance, see Lotan, Giora, op. cit.Google Scholar, and Katz, Israel and Nizan, Arye, ‘New Instruments of Social Security for the Prevention of Poverty in Israel’, 1970, International Social Security Review, vol. xxiii, no.2, pp. 270–7Google Scholar, and Salzberger, and Shnitt, , op. cit., pp. 553–62.Google Scholar

27 Shlakman, , op. cit., pp. 195–7.Google Scholar

28 While the rate of support on public assistance fell from 4.8 per cent of the population in 1955 to 2.7 per cent in 1972, the number of cases supported did not change because of the transfer of the aged to National Insurance, as well as the entry into the labour force of many persons formerly receiving assistance. The Israel Economist, 12 1977, p. 290.Google Scholar In the United States, the same process occurred except that while social security grew, so did public assistance in the 1960s. For a controversial explanation, see Piven, Frances Fox and Cloward, Richard A., ‘Reaffirming the Regulation of the Poor’, Social Service Review, 1974, vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 147–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29 During 1960–71, relief rates were increased in four steps with the new rate in September 1971 being 70 per cent higher than the rate in September 1969. Even with this raise the average grant for a family of six was still less than 60 per cent of the average monthly wage and any added income obtained through work was still subject to a 100 per cent tax. Shlonsky, , op. cit., p. 26.Google Scholar Ironically, the old age social insurance system resulted in payments which were only about 12 per cent of the average monthly income in 1970. Insurance payments for pensioners without other income was about 15 per cent higher than the basic welfare payment; for those with additional income it was about 20 per cent lower.

30 Doron, Abraham and Rosenthal, Rami, Relatives' Responsibility in the Israeli Welfare System, Jerusalem: Hebrew UniversityGoogle Scholar, Paul Baerwald School of Social Work, Publication Series in Social Welfare and Social Work, No. 5, August 1971 (Hebrew). On the experience with means tests and the use of discretion in England and France, see also Stevenson, Olive, Claimant or Client: A Social Worker's View of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, London: Allen & Unwin, 1973Google Scholar, Handler, Joel F., The Coercive Social Worker, London: Academic Press, 1973Google Scholar, and Stevens, Cindy, Public Assistance in France, Occasional Papers on Social Administration, no. 50, London: Bell, 1973.Google Scholar A typical empirical study of the American experience is Handler, Joel F. and Hollings-worth, Ellen Jane, The Deserving Poor: A Study of Welfare Administration, Chicago: Markham Publishing Co., 1971.Google Scholar

31 ‘Violent Behavior in Welfare Offices – A Commission Report’, Saad, Bi-monthly for Social Welfare, Twelfth Year, no. 4, 07 1968, pp. 1315 (Hebrew).Google Scholar

32 Efforts to spell out the criteria and to publicize them had the short-term effect of decreasing expenditures, although in the long run it is recognized that this would result in an increase in expenditures. Accordingly, the Ministry is unwilling to publicize criteria-as long as they have no assurance that funds will be available. Jaffe, Eliezer D., ‘Separation in Jerusalem’, Public Welfare, vol. 31, no. 1, 12 1972, pp. 33–8.Google Scholar

33 Some indication of the non-use of public assistance may be derived from a study which found that ‘in 1969 approximately 32,000 families or approximately 113,000 persons representing 5% of all urban families, lived below the welfare allocation line. This number is considerably greater than the number of families under this line who actually benefited from regular welfare payments in the same year’, Roter, R. and Shamai, N., ‘Patterns of Poverty in Israel’, Social Security (Bitachon Sotziali), no. 1. 02 1971.Google Scholar

34 See Kahneman, I., Knowledge, Attitudes and Evaluations Concerning Services and Institutions of the Ministry of Welfare, Jerusalem: Israel Institute of Applied Social Research, 1970 (Hebrew).Google Scholar

35 On the character of local government in Israel, the most recent comprehensive study is Weiss, S., ‘Local Government in Israel: A Study of Its Leadership’, doctoral dissertation, Department of Political Science, Hebrew University, 1968.Google Scholar See also Fein, , op. cit., pp. 182185Google Scholar; Kramer, Ralph M., Community Development in Israel and the Netherlands, Berkeley: University of California, Institute of International Studies, 1970, pp. 3744.Google Scholar A different and more positive perspective is found in Elazar, Daniel J., ‘Local Government as an Integrating Factor in Israeli Society’, in Curtis, Michael and Shertoff, Mordecai (eds.), Israel: Social Structure and Change, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1973, pp. 1526.Google Scholar

36 The distinctive character of public administration in Israel is discussed in Caiden, Gerald, Israel's Administrative Culture, Berkeley: University of California, Institute of Governmental Studies, 1970Google Scholar, and Akzin, Benjamin and Dror, Yehezkel, Israel: High Pressure Planning, Syracuse University Press, 1966.Google Scholar See particularly the Introduction by Bertram M. Gross.

37 Kramer, Ralph M., ‘The Organizational Character of the Voluntary Service Agency’, Social Service Review, 1975, vol. 49, no.3 pp. 311–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar The role of the social work profession as it pertains to efforts to change these conditions is considered in Jaffe, Eliezer, ‘The Social Work Establishment and Social Change in Israel’, Social Work, 1970, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 104–9.Google Scholar

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