At the request of several Knesset members, the plenum convened on Monday to discuss the poverty report and the recent shake-up in natural gas industry.

According to a report published by the Latet NGO, poverty in Israel is deepening. Some 2,546,000 poor people live in the country, or 31.6 percent of the population, including 1,613,000 adults (29.8% of the total), and 932,000 children (35.1% of the total), the report said.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said, ”In a government of machers, public funds are transferred to people with interests, to the settlers, the tycoons and the corrupt. We have a government that serves the strong instead of caring for the weak. Yesterday the residents of Gival Amal were evicted because (Yitzhak) Tshuva wants to build luxury towers there.”

”The budget of the Settlement Division increases 600% while people in the periphery can`t make ends meet,” she said.

MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said the poverty report`s statistics are indicative of a ”sick country,” adding that the State ”treats its citizens with cruelty.”

MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra`am-Ta`al-Mada) said the poverty report ”should alarm any conscionable person, and mainly every politician.”

”The government is responsible for these statistics, and since the prime minister is not resigning over these statistics, the public should fire him,” he said.

”When two-thirds of the Arab children live below the poverty line – this is a statistic that repeats itself in every government, and it is the result of an intentional policy. This is a disgraceful failure of the government and welfare agencies,” Tibi told the plenum.

”Hundreds of millions have been transferred by the Finance Committee to the settlements. How is that legal while the transfers of Yisrael Beitenu are not? How is the police not investigating what is happening in the Finance Committee. The stench has filled the Finance Committee`s meeting room,” Tibi stated.

MK Yitzhak Cohen of Shas said: ”We have gone through a very difficult time with a very bad government that did not take an interest in the issue of poverty in the country. This government has severely hurt the poor, and even worse, it has excluded entire segments of the population. Children of infiltrators were offered summer camps, but haredi children were not.”

MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatenua) argued that ”as long as there won`t be peace in the State of Israel, there will be no chance of resolving the social issues within the State of Israel…As long as we invest all our time and money in dealing with security issues, the social issues will be pushed to the sidelines.”

Responding on behalf of the government, Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) said: ”We will continue to lead the Israeli economy responsibly, with experience and with a broad and realistic vision – certainly in comparison with other economies around the world, which have collapsed before our eyes.”

”I am sorry for every poor person in the State of Israel. The difficult scenes of people rummaging through trash bins have been around for many years, and it is our duty to see to it that such scenes cease to take place in the State of Israel. The official poverty report is the one released two weeks ago by the National Insurance Institute, not the alternative report that was fabricated by NGOs and associations. According to the official report, 200,000 Israelis have escaped the cycle of poverty. Poverty reached its peak before Likud assumed the reins of government, and since then the magnitude of poverty has been decreasing,” he said.

”The opposition describes the State of Israel as a country which is not a good place to live in, but the facts show that the opposite is true.”

MK Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor Party addressed the recent shake-up in the natural gas industry, spurred by Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo`s decision to void an agreement he made with the controlling partners of the Leviathan natural gas field— Delek Group and the US company Noble Energy — that would have enabled them to retain their near-monopoly in natural-gas production.

His decision will likely force one or both of the companies to sell stakes in Leviathan or the smaller Tamar field.

MK Yachimovich said she would like to ”expose all of the lies of Yitzhak Tshuva (the controlling shareholder of Delek Group) and his people, who control the media and have countless lobbyists and experts who spread these lies.”

”The first lie is that the country signed an agreement with Tshuva and then reneged on it. An agreement regarding the monopoly was never signed. Tshuva purchased the license for Leviathan when he already had 60% of the licenses needed to drill for natural gas. This is how he purposely and maliciously created an illegal monopoly, while violating the Antitrust Law.”

”Another lie is that the move will lead to the lowering of Israel`s credit rating. What nonsense,” Yachimovich asserted. ”It is corrupt monopolies that will lower Israel`s credit rating.”

”Another lie is that the United States is pressing us on this issue. What nonsense. Did the prime minister get a phone call from Obama? He probably got a call from some senator who has a financial interest in Nobel Energy. Investors are dying to come here, but they see that there is a monopoly and run away. Did Tshuva invent gas? He is merely a financial investor, and there are plenty of those.”