After close to four days of no traffic and no commuting, Israelis woke up Sunday to near-gridlock in central Tel Aviv, as disabled Israelis demanding that the government provide them with higher transfer payments partially shut down the Ayalon Expressway, the main artery in the city. Dozens of protesters in wheelchairs blocked the exit at KKL Boulevard, the main exit for north Tel Aviv. As a result, traffic was even slower than usual on Sunday – usually the most congested morning of the week.
The protests, both on the highways and in auditoriums, are organized by groups demanding that payments to the disabled equal the minimum monthly wage, currently about NIS 5,000. 880,000 Israelis receive such payments, and currently are getting between NIS 1,405 and NIS 2,342 per month, depending on their degree of disability. The state had previously offered to raise the payments to NIS 4,000 for about 30 percent of the disabled, and NIS 3,200 for others with lesser degrees of disability.
It may be “just” a matter of money, but it’s money that the state cannot afford, MK David Bitan (Likud) said Sunday. Speaking on Channel Ten, Bitan said that raising the transfer payments to the level of the minimum wage “is impossible. It would cost us an additional NIS 4 billion that we do not have. There are many benefits that we can provide besides the minimum wage.”
According to MK Itzik Shmueli (Zionist Camp), however, there is plenty of money for the disabled. “The government is trying to break their struggle, but it is a struggle that is more justified than any other. Their anger and disappointment is fully justified. Forcing drivers to get involved and pressure the government that is doing nothing for them is a legitimate way to get the Treasury to open up its coffers, which contains billions of extra shekels,” Shmueli said.