One can argue over the details, but not the essence: Israel needs to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to get jobs, using all the tools at its disposal. Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s recent decision to stop subsidizing day care for families in which one parent doesn’t work was intended to increase employment rates among ultra-Orthodox men.
The pace of ultra-Orthodox integration into the labor market increased after then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented his “from stipends to work” program back in 2003. But in recent years, this trend has reversed. Nor did this happen by chance. The ultra-Orthodox parties were key partners in the successive governments Netanyahu headed as prime minister, and to obtain peace within his coalition, he simply took his foot off the gas.
The result was predictable. The ultra-Orthodox community suffers from high rates of poverty, and the percentage of ultra-Orthodox men who work is low. For every man who does work, there’s another who doesn’t. In this situation, and given that ultra-Orthodox women have a high rate of workforce participation but earn very little, supporting a family with seven children on average (compared to an average of three in non-ultra-Orthodox society) becomes impossible.
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Israel can and must provide social services at a high level to all its citizens. But it can’t do this unless every segment of society participates in the labor market at a high rate. This is a budgetary issue, but also one of principle.
Life expectancy is increasing. Israel’s rate of natural growth in general and in the ultra-Orthodox community in particular are higher than anywhere in the Western world. And given technological developments, high employment rates are a necessary condition for achieving economic wellbeing and social solidarity.
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Ultra-Orthodox politicians predictably launched an attack on Lieberman’s decision, and they were joined by Meretz’s chairman, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz. But despite the difficulties that ending the day care subsidies may cause, these politicians would do better to focus on the move’s positive side and demand that the government provide tools for their community’s integration into the job market, rather than demanding an arrangement that perpetuates poverty.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.