Thursday, July 19, 2012

1949: Promoting Large Families, Jewish and Arab

63 years ago today, on July 19th 1949, Israel's cabinet made two important decisions. The first was to bring the remains of Theodor Herzl from his grave in Vienna to a final resting place in Jerusalem. The second was to encourage families to have more children by granting a sum of 100 lirot to any family with 10 living children.

To partake in this pro-natal program, eligible families would fill out a form listing their children. Here's the form of a family originally from Aden (in Yemen) with 12 children, ages 6 to 31, three of them already married. Another registered family had 11 children, seven of whom had been born in Baghdad, and the youngest four in Haifa. And here's another family, all born in Jerusalem, later living mostly in Petach Tikva, with all 11 children married except for the youngest (who was widowed at the age of 26). We're not certain this already well-established family was the sort the government had in mind.

The initial estimation of the program's accountants was that there would be about 100 eligible families: they had already identified 40 families, expected another 30 to come forward immediately, and projected that by the end of the year another 30 eligible families would have been found. Beyond that estimate, there was the question of Israel's Arabs. Their families too would be eligible, but the official in Prime Minister David Ben Gurion's office did not have any idea how many of them there were; should their number be larger than expected, he reserved the right to come back for additional funding. In this letter, penned by someone in the Prime Minster's secretariat to the military governor of Jaffa, the author explains how Arab women should fill out the form, in Hebrew if possible, and while presenting the ID cards of their children.

The program provoked a range of reactions. Some were strongly in favor, others more critical. This fellow thought the policy was a wonderful idea, but wondered if there was a way to augment it: what Israel really needed, he argued, was for its wealthier families to have ten children because this would make for larger numbers of well-off citizens and all the concommittant advantages. The problem, of course, was that wealthy people wouldn't be influenced by a mere 100 lirot incentive. The only thing that might entice them, suggests the respondent, is a total tax exemption.

The policy remained in place until the enactment of Israel's social security child support policy in 1959.

No comments:

Post a Comment