Gafni: Haredim Want to Work, but State Doesn't Want Them to

Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) lashed out yesterday at Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's assertion Tuesday that ultra-Orthodox communities are themselves partly responsible for the high unemployment in their ranks.

"Haredi men want to work, Haredi women want to work," he said. "The government doesn't want to integrate them into the work force. This is an ideological battle."

Gafni said the primary obstacles to ultra-Orthodox integration into the work force come from the government, not from private employers choosing not to hire Haredim.

For example, he said, the Tax Authority has refused to certify graduates of Beit Yaakov, an ultra-Orthodox school system for girls, as tax advisers, even though they have been accredited in a process that ends with exams similar to the regular bagrut (matriculation) exams.

"They take all the tests," Gafni said. "They learn math, physics and biology. But they are not granted [certification], they do not become tax advisers, even though everyone admits they're better than others."

Two years ago, a furor erupted when rabbis demanded that the Beit Yaakov schools cancel all degree-granting programs. But Gafni insisted that this had no impact on Haredi employment; instead, he blamed the low work force participation among Haredim on faulty government policy.

"Either you want to adapt yourselves to us and us to you, or you only want us to do what you want," he said.

"Haredim want to earn their livelihoods honorably and contribute to the economy, but no government has wanted to address this," he continued. "I say there must be affirmative action for Haredim, as there is for other sectors of society. But the Justice Ministry tells me there's no such thing as a 'Haredi' group. I tell them, what do you mean there's no such definition? One who's kept down by the country, that's a Haredi."