On 10 June 2009, the Supreme Court of Israel issued an order nisi to the National Insurance Institute (NII) and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor (MITL), ordering them to explain why anyone who owns or uses a car should be denied income security payments. This order nisi was issued in response to a petition filed to the court by Adalah and Sawt el-Amel (The Laborer’s Voice) and income support recipients on 16 March 2008. The petitioners challenged Amendment 28 from January 2007 to the Income Support Law – 1982, which strips recipients of income support allowances of their right to own or use a car.
Income security payments are granted to every citizen who is unemployed and cannot find or engage in work following the end of the period in which the person is entitled to receive unemployment benefits. Income supplementation is granted to every worker in part-time employment whose salary is below the minimum wage (approximately 4,000 NIS per month). In both cases, these benefits aim to ensure that individuals can meet their basic needs and live at a minimum living standard in dignity.
Notably, 26% of recipients of income security benefits are Arab citizens of Israel, although Arab citizens make up only 20% of the total population of the state. 38% are new immigrants and 36% are Jewish citizens of the state.
In 2004, Adalah and Sawt el-Amel submitted a similar petition demanding the cancellation of Article 9A(b) of the Income Support Law – 1980 and Article 10(c) of the Income Support Regulations – 1982, which prevented unemployed car owners and users from receiving secured income support allowances. Following the petition, the Knesset amended the law in January 2007 to allow recipients of supplemental income payments to own a car, provided that the car is more than seven years old and if its engine power is 1,300 Hp or if the car is more than 12 years old and if its engine power is 1,600 Hp.
However, while the amendment does allow recipients of income support benefits to own a car, it imposes three conditions on their ownership that must all be met, and that in practice preclude this possibility entirely. One of the three conditions stipulates that a person receiving income support payments should begin receiving the benefits within one month of being dismissed from their previous workplace. In reality this condition cannot be met, since individuals who have been dismissed receive unemployment benefits for a period of three months, and only after receiving these benefits for three months do they become eligible for income support payments. The amendment therefore discriminates between income support recipients and recipients of supplemental income payments, who are allowed to own and use a car in the aforementioned circumstances.
In the petition, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher argued that the discrimination created by the law between recipients of income support payments and supplemental income payments is arbitrary and unjustified, since the main objective of the Income Support Law is to protect every citizen who is unable to guarantee a minimal level of income, especially those who are entitled to income support payments.
Attorney Zaher further stressed the importance of owning a car for recipients of income support, as they need it in order to carry out their necessary daily activities, such as attending employment offices, looking for workplaces, having access to medical and health care and to different forms of professional training to assist income support recipients in finding work. The importance of a car is all the greater in the Arab towns and villages due to the lack of public transport and the scarcity of local employment opportunities. In order to emphasize the importance of using a car to break the cycle of poverty and marginalization, the petition cited a study conducted in California, USA in 1995 (Paul Ong, Work and Car Ownership Among Welfare Recipients, University of California Transportation Center, Working Paper UCTC, No. 19, May 1995) which found a close correlation between car ownership and entry into the labor market.