Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cultivating the Negev on the backs of the most vulnerable Israelis

The prime minister and his wife pay a visit to Aleh Negev, July 28, 2016
[Image Source]
Uh oh. Aleh's slick PR machine bungled.

Touting their large closed institutions for people with severe disabilities, they emphasized their business' profitability and societal benefits. The welfare of  the individuals living there -  which experts in the field insist suffers - is cited as a secondary concern.

The context was a visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara to Aleh Negev, the chain's flagship institution, last week to pay tribute to Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, recipient of the 2016 Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and for contributions to society and the state.

According to Yisrael Hayom, Mr Netanyahu said there
Through its work with our most severely disabled citizens... ALEH exemplifies the very essence of both Judaism and humanity... [Yisrael Hayom, July 29, 2016]
Say what? Taking our most vulnerable children away from their parents and siblings is an example of the "very essence of Judaism and humanity"? Hasn't our prime minister gotten it back to front? Isn't the loving embrace of these children by their families what we mean when we refer to "the very essence of Judaism and humanity"?

The First Lady also weighed in the virtues of Aleh's large, closed institutions.
 "When children of all abilities and backgrounds are brought together in this way, cared for by individuals who value nationalism and volunteerism, and are taught to focus on their similarities and capabilities, rather than their differences and disabilities, they will grow up to be kinder, gentler and more complete adults, and our society will reap the benefits," she noted. [Yisrael Hayom, July 29, 2016]
Excuse me? They will be kinder, gentler and more complete adults? We are speaking about individuals who are severely impaired and  incapable of harming a fly or of being anything but gentle. They have been taken away from their families and deposited in a closed institution remote from the rest of Israeli society. And this, Mrs. Netanyahu would like us to believe, will teach them "to focus on their similarities"?

With all due respect to her license in child psychology - which Yisrael Hayom emphasizes - she is no expert in the field of disabilities. Those who are beg to differ with her assessment of Aleh's living solution. For instance, "Institutions are poor substitutes for a nurturing home life, even if they are well run and monitored," UNICEF writes in its annual State of the World’s Children report for 2013.

The harm to children from institutionalized care has been widely documented and, according to a 2009 study by the world’s leading independent children’s rights NGO, Save the Children, "several successful models of family and community-based care have already been developed."

It would appear that Israel supports keeping people with disabilities in their homes or communities rather than institutions. The Equal Rights of Persons With Disabilities Law (1998) mandates equality for the disabled person and the his/her right to make decisions about his/her own life. A 2000 amendment to Israel's Welfare (Care of Retarded Persons) Law, 5729-1969 [noted here] requires that preference be given to residences within the community when placing individuals outside their homes.

Furthermore, in 2012 Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. As I noted in a 2015 article in Haaretz, this guarantees their right to live within the community and to be accorded
“access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services... to prevent isolation or segregation from the community.”
Mr Almog himself had this to say about the Prime Minister's tribute visit:
[It] is a powerful message indicating the Israeli government's commitment to both developing the Negev and providing the best possible support and care for the weakest members of our society... [Yisrael Hayom, July 29, 2016]
Again, it's the development of the Negev that is the focus. And it's achieved on the backs of "the weakest members of our society."

A laudable venture it is indeed, but using these children and young adults to provide  employment for "close to 300 local residents" is nothing short of abhorrent.

So to Sara I would say: Stick to your own field!

And to her husband: Is it not time you paid tribute to the care of children and adults with disabilities by their families! And isn't it time you redirected government largesse away from Aleh's institutions to at-home care and therapies and to day schools that enable this population to remain with their loved ones?

To Doron Almog, I would say: Many of us want to keep our children with severe disabilities at home with us. Why not  devote some of your time and energy to promoting that option?

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