Summer 2002


10% of population in 2000 was 65 and older

Age Discrimination Is Unwanted Fact of Life in Israel


The deputy chief judge of Israel’s Labor Court thinks there should be no age discrimination.  Judge Elisheva Barak was the keynote speaker at a conference on “Old Age and Law in Israel,” co-sponsored by the University’s Faculty of Law and its Center for Health, Law, and Ethics, and the Graduate Department of Gerontology and its Center for Research and Study of Aging, along with the Israel Society for Health and Law and in conjunction with the Society for Planning and Developing Services for the Elderly in Israel.

   Unlike some countries, notably the United States, Israel has no laws against forced retirement.  Most companies and institutions force workers out at age 65; university faculty can serve up to 68; and judges can dispense justice up to 70.

   “Forced retirement of a worker who is 65 hurts not only the employee,” she said, sounding more like a sociologist than a judge, ”but also the employer and the society in general.”

   “A population that is still at its full power,” she continued, “suddenly stops to be productive and lives on national insurance money or a [low] pension.  This group becomes discriminated against, frustrated, and economically weak.”

   In Judge Barak’s opinion, retirement should be based only on the worker’s ability to perform.  It remains to be seen whether her opinions can be translated into action the way some of her husband’s, Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, are.

   Israel’s elderly population suffers not only from discrimination but also from a negative image and problematic handling of its needs, according to Prof. Ariella Lowenstein, chairperson of the University’s Department of Gerontology. It is her contention, however, that a demographic revolution lies just under the surface.

“The positive potential inherent in the growth of this population group,” she declares, “will bring about a fifth human revolution.”  This demographic revolution, in her opinion, will be on a par with the industrial and technological revolutions in changing the face of humanity.

Lowenstein could point to statistics such as those for Israel that were aired in the conference as fueling this revolution: For example, 10% of Israel’s population in 2000 was age 65 and older, compared to 5% (of a smaller population) in 1960.  Among immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the past decade, the figure was 16%.  The rate of growth of Israel’s senior populations is in fact one of the fastest in the world. Still another statistic is that life expectancy for a man in Israel, 76.6 years, is one of the highest in the world.

Lowenstein coordinates the European Community-funded, international Oasis project that is investigating independence and quality of life in old age.

She cites several factors to account for the negative attitude toward old age in Israel. Many who came from Europe did not see aging parents and so did not get to know about old age close up. Many studies, she remarks, have shows that close familiarization with the aged have led to a more positive and accepting approach to this population.  Research in Israel, she continued, has tended until now to focus on pathological aspects of old age.  Another factor is the media, which has mainly presented sensationalist stories in connection with the aged, about one quarter of whom live under the poverty line.

Israeli legislation in regard to the elderly is problematic.  On the one hand, according to the sociologist, the welfare law is matched by only two other countries in the world, Germany and Japan.  It gives the elderly here an address to which they can turn to receive services, and it mandates a compulsory timetable. 

On the other hand, the legislation has its shortcomings.  It does not deal with rehabilitation, not to speak of the subject of prevention.  Its approach, she notes, is strictly preservative.

Lowenstein hopes that the new UN charter on the elderly, to replace the one written twenty years ago, will reflect the power of the elderly in current and future society.

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