Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not a particularly successful premier during his first stint on the job, from 1996 to 1999. But in 2009 he was elected again and, this time around, he stands a solid chance of finishing his entire four-year term. He might even win a third shot in the next elections.
Netanyahu is no stranger to achievement. He has reached, and then duplicated, the politician's pinnacle of "becoming prime minister." So it begs the question: Why repeatedly scale the summit of achievement, only to do nothing once you reach the top?
Netanyahu knows perfectly well that getting more Haredim to work is a crucial mission. Currently Haredim make up seven percent of the Israeli population, but their numbers are expected to reach 12 percent in 20 years. In 40 years, they will constitute a fifth of the population.
Estimates say that 40 percent of Haredi men currently have some form of employment, but the National Insurance Institute puts the figure even lower, at 30 percent.
It's clear that Israel cannot survive if 20 percent of its citizens are not gainfully employed. It simply won't work.
If the Haredim don’t start working, and soon, this country will become impoverished.
Persuading Haredi men to work is therefore an existential, national priority of the tallest order. Existential - because Israel cannot exist as a prosperous, growing country when nearly one-fifth of its entire male population refuses to work. National - because the State of Israel was founded upon the idea that citizens must contribute to the welfare of the state and play a part in shouldering its burdens.
Haredim, however, have shunned this ethos doubly. They refuse to share the burden of military surface and they will not shoulder the nation's economic burdens, which come from contributions to gross national product and gross tax revenues.
The faster the Haredi population grows as a proportion of the general population, the faster they will break the back of the hard-working, tax-paying majority – a majority that also fulfills its obligation of performing mandatory military service.
Netanyahu also knows that right now there is a rare window of opportunity, one open just wide enough to enact the historic change needed to shift course from the destructive path along which Israel's Haredim are currently marching along.
The unusual confluence of events between the High Court's decision to revoke the Tal Law, which allowed Haredi men to shirk military service, together with the social justice protests calling for the equal distribution of social and economic burdens among Israel's citizens, have opened this window. Alongside it is an increased level of governmental awareness of the tremendous problems created by Israeli socioeconomic gaps, and Haredim who avoid work stand at the center of this awareness.
Also, Israel's silent majority is coming out of its stupor and is – with increased volume and enthusiasm – supporting change. The moment is ripe with potential.
For his part, Netanyahu is enjoying a stable, broad-based governing coalition, even without the support of the Knesset's Haredi parties. The High Court has flipped the hourglass, and offered their support to the cause as well.
If the prime minister was ready, he could lead a revolutionary process that would change the face of this nation and earn him a page in the history books. All of the other elements are in place. But instead of looking to the horizon, Netanyahu occupies himself with petty political calculations, such as who will be in his post-election governing coalition and whether it's worth his while to upset the Haredim now and risk paying for it later.
Rather than rise to the challenges of leadership and emerge as the savior of Israel, Netanyahu busies himself with plotting his next electoral victory. He is occupied with how to reach the summit yet again, rather than with how to ever leave his mark on the place.
Consequently, Netanyahu has disbanded the Plesner Committee, a panel appointed to draft legislation requiring the ultra-Orthodox to do either national or military service. The panel had been on the verge of making recommendations that would have finally eliminated the loopholes that allow this population to shirk both the army and gainful employment.
Netanyahu continues to be a small-minded prime minister, sacrificing the future of Israel on the altar of his own personal ambition. He should not be allowed to do so.
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