Adalah calls on Israel to expand unemployment benefits to 18 & 19-year olds, as COVID-19 jobless rate spikes and Palestinian families are pushed deeper into poverty

Under current Israeli law, individuals must be at least 20 years of age to qualify for unemployment benefits; large numbers of Palestinian employees losing their jobs during COVID-19 are young people.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has sent a series of letters calling on Israeli authorities to expand unemployment benefits to 18 and 19-year olds as the COVID-19 jobless rate spikes and Palestinian families are being pushed deeper into poverty.


Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara sent an initial letter on 2 April 2020 to the Israeli attorney general and the minister of labor, social affairs, and social services. A follow-up letter was sent on 12 May 2020 to the Israeli ministries of justice and labor, and to the National Insurance Institute.


Significant numbers of Palestinian citizens of Israel are not employed as permanent employees, and are therefore relatively more vulnerable to being laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the crisis, this short-term employment affects the eligibility of many Palestinian workers to receive unemployment benefits, which are contingent on the worker having been employed for a minimum period prior to receiving the benefits.


Eligibility for unemployment benefits depends in large part on the age of the claimant, which also determines the duration of time for which the benefits are payable, as well as the amount paid. A large number of Palestinian employees, citizens of Israel, who are being fired or who otherwise losing their jobs during COVID-19 are young people.


The Israeli National Insurance Law – 1995 limits eligibility for unemployment benefits to persons who are 20 years of age or older; workers under the age of 20 are generally not eligible to receive these benefits. Furthermore, the younger the claimant, the lower the percentage of their wages covered by benefits, and the shorter the time period of coverage. For example, individuals under 28 years of age receive up to only 60 percent of their income as benefits, while those over 28 may receive up to 80 percent of their monthly income.


In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara sent letters to Israeli’s minister of labor, social affairs and welfare services seeking to lower the age of eligibility for unemployment benefits to include 18 and 19 year-olds. Adalah argued that the receipt of these benefits during the COVID-19 crisis is crucial as poverty-stricken families are often reliant on the income of all working members of the family, including those aged 18 and 19 years. Further, Palestinian families in Israel are among the most harshly affected, as they suffer from higher poverty rates than the general population. Israel’s minister of labor and welfare has discretion to expand eligibility for the benefits under Article 160 (d) of the National Insurance Law.


Adalah further argued that the denial of unemployment benefits to adults under the age of 20 discriminated against members of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel not only on the basis of age, but also on the basis of nationality. They are most severely affected by poverty, and unlike their Jewish counterparts, the majority of Palestinian citizens of Israel are exempt from and do not perform compulsory military service from the age of 18. Given that most Israeli Jewish youth enter the labor market from the age of 20 onwards – after military service – the main group affected by the restriction are young Palestinian Arab citizens and their families.


The ministry’s responses to Adalah’s letters demonstrate its lack of willingness to alter the criteria of eligibility for this age group for the purposes of alleviating the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis for Palestinian citizens of Israel. In its responses, state authorities admit that one of the reasons why the law does not grant unemployment benefits to individuals under 20 years of age is the fact that these are the years at which military service is performed, and hence there is no need to grant unemployment benefits for this group.


CLICK HERE to read the initial letter [Hebrew]

CLICK HERE to read the follow-up letter [Hebrew]


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