"What do you want from me?" Israel's welfare authorities turn a blind eye to violence in shelters for people with disabilities

This week, the police arrested employees of the Bnei Zion shelter in Rosh Ha'ayon on suspicion of abusing residents on hundreds of occasions. A recording obtained by Shomrim shows that a complaint was made to a senior official responsible for people with disabilities a year ago – but he showed no interest in the information and did not deal with the complaint. In response, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services said: "What can be heard in the recording is very serious and is in total violation of the ministry's policy, which is determined by the minister and the director-general. Since this incident came to light, the ministry has taken far-reaching steps to fully investigate the allegations." This Shomrim exposé was also covered by News 12 on its main evening news.

This week, the police arrested employees of the Bnei Zion shelter in Rosh Ha'ayon on suspicion of abusing residents on hundreds of occasions. A recording obtained by Shomrim shows that a complaint was made to a senior official responsible for people with disabilities a year ago – but he showed no interest in the information and did not deal with the complaint. In response, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services said: "What can be heard in the recording is very serious and is in total violation of the ministry's policy, which is determined by the minister and the director-general. Since this incident came to light, the ministry has taken far-reaching steps to fully investigate the allegations." This Shomrim exposé was also covered by News 12 on its main evening news.

This week, the police arrested employees of the Bnei Zion shelter in Rosh Ha'ayon on suspicion of abusing residents on hundreds of occasions. A recording obtained by Shomrim shows that a complaint was made to a senior official responsible for people with disabilities a year ago – but he showed no interest in the information and did not deal with the complaint. In response, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services said: "What can be heard in the recording is very serious and is in total violation of the ministry's policy, which is determined by the minister and the director-general. Since this incident came to light, the ministry has taken far-reaching steps to fully investigate the allegations." This Shomrim exposé was also covered by News 12 on its main evening news.

Roni Singer

Bnei Zion shelter for people with disabilities (Photo: Yariv Katz, Yedioth Ahronoth), Gideon Shalom (Screenshot from Youtube)

February 3, 2022

Summary

The abuse of residents of the Bnei Zion shelter for people with disabilities, which was uncovered last week, could have been prevented if senior officials from the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services had listened to the mother of one resident, who sounded alarm bells as far back as early 2021.

Shomrim has obtained a recording of a conversation, which took place around a year ago, between the mother and Gideon Shalom, the deputy director-general of the ministry and director of the Administration for Disabilities. In the conversation, Shalom expressed no interest in what the mother has to tell him, is brusque with her and asks on several occasions, "What do you want from me?"

Listen (In Hebrew):

Shalom is the head of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services' Disabilities Administration. According to the administration's website, the unit was established in 2017 to coordinate the care, "from cradle to grave, of people with disabilities, who have widely varying degrees of functionality and who are dealing with significant disabilities, which impact their functioning in key aspects of life."

The website of the Disabilities Administration opens with its "vision." Alongside promoting the quality of life and wellbeing of people with disabilities and removing societal barriers, the vision also includes the following sentence: "The Administration also works with the families of people with disabilities and aspires to improve their quality of life and welfare." That lofty goal makes the conversation between Shalom and the mother even harder to swallow.

Bnei Zion shelter for people with disabilities. Photo: Yariv Katz, Yedioth Ahronoth

In the conversation, the mother told Shalom that her son had come to Bnei Zion after being a resident in two other shelters, where he was also subjected to violence. "He's been at Bnei Zion for nine months now, and he's been beaten, he's suffering anxiety, he's traumatized and extremely frightened. My boy is frustrated. Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, I couldn't bring him home. When I was able to bring him home, I discovered many bruises…"

Shalom: "What do you want from me? … Ma'am, listen to me. If your son is suffering, go to the police. File a police complaint and they will investigate."

The mother: "If you're responsible for all the shelters, you must send social workers who'll be on the residents' side … I turn to the Welfare [Ministry] every time, but I get no response."

Shalom: "Just tell me what you want from me so that we can talk. What do you want from me?"

The mother: "I want you to act against the violence."

Shalom: "So file a police complaint."

The mother: "That doesn't do any good. They keep on closing the case."

Shalom: "Listen, ma'am. I don't know what you want from me. There are procedures for complaining."

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services said in response: "What can be heard in the recording is very serious and is in total violation of the ministry's policy, which is determined by the minister and the director-general. Since this incident came to light, the ministry has taken far-reaching steps to thoroughly investigate the allegations. We are vigorously investigating the performance of the institutional framework and how professionals from the ministry handled the incident, and we will make the requisite decisions based on the outcome of the investigation.

"It is important to clarify that the ministry has established several procedures which allow people to contact ministry professionals directly and discreetly and to file complaints, which are handled with full seriousness, including immediate reports to the police. As proof, past complaints against the Bnei Zion shelter were transferred immediately to law-enforcement officials. Residents of our facilities and their families who have not been given an adequate response by the directors of those facilities are entitled to demand the details of the ministry inspector and to complain directly to them."

Update: This week (March 8), the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services announced that Gideon Shalom would be taking early retirement and would leave his position as deputy director-general of the ministry and director of the Administration for Disabilities in June.

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
To read the full story click here.