Aside from supervising a wide network of public and private social welfare agencies, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare maintains special enterprises employing blind and handicapped people, operates institutions for mentally and physically handicapped children, and administers a nationwide preventive service for problem children and youth.
Special legislation has established the legal right to assistance of persons incapacitated for work, of survivors of those who died in state service, and under certain conditions, of persons whose claims antedated their immigration to Israel. Pensions have thus been paid to persons disabled while fighting with the Allied forces in World War II and to those invalided as a result of Nazi persecution.
Israel has a universal social insurance system that covers all residents aged 18 and over including housewives. Benefits include old age pensions, disability, medical care and monthly allowances for large families. Employee-based programs include maternity benefits, worker's compensation for injuries, and unemployment benefits. These programs are funded by contributions by employees, employers and the government. Pensions are set at a rate of 16% of average wage; 24% including income supplement. The National Insurance Institute is directly under the minister of labor and is governed by a 42-member council representing government, labor, and employers.
The Jewish Agency is primarily responsible for the initial phases of reception and absorption of immigrants. Hadassah provides vocational guidance and training to youth, and the Women's International Zionist Organization is active in family and child welfare. Mo'etzet Hapo'alot (Women's Workers Council), a Histadrut affiliate, is active in this area, along with Youth Aliyah, which operates a system of children's villages.
A series of laws have been enacted to protect women's rights including the Equal Rights for Women Law (1951) and the Employment of Women Law (1954), which requires equal pay for equal work. In practice, women receive lower wages than men. Legislation mandating affirmative action in the civil service and in government-owned companies was passed in 1995. Legislation has also been passed to protect women outside of the workplace. In 1991, the Domestic Violence Law strengthened the ability of the courts to protect women from abusive husbands. In 1993, common law spouses were permitted to take their partners' family names, and a new law barred discrimination in unemployment compensation for elderly female citizens. However, discrimination against women persists in many family and divorce matters. The courts that deal with these cases are bound by religious laws that generally favor men. A 1995 law gave rabbinical courts the power of imposing expanded civil sanctions on husbands in cases where the wife has ample grounds for divorce but cannot obtain one. Jewish women are subject to military draft, and can volunteer to serve in combat units.
The subject of human rights in Israel and the administered territories has aroused much controversy, with international organizations citing police harassment of Arabs, especially on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Israeli government officials pointing to the Arab terrorist threat. Within Israel, freedom of political expression is fully protected, and all shades of opinion are expressed; such guarantees do not extend to the administered territories, however, and the press, including foreign correspondents, is also monitored and censored for security reasons. Israeli Arabs face some discrimination in employment, housing and education.
The use of limited physical force during interrogations has been legal, but a high court ruling banned a variety of specific abuses, including sleep deprivation and violent shaking. Administrative detention without trial remains legal, but it is rarely used. Prison conditions for Palestinians have improved but still do not meet all international standards.