Remarks by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference Tuesday, according to which the political influence of ultra-Orthodox Jews should be restrained, angered Shas party leader Arye Dery, who accused Bennett of anti-Haredi populism.
According to Dery, Bennett “is starting to look at the electoral] threshold from below, so he’s trying to do what [Finance Minister Avigdor] Lieberman does: Hit the Haredim and maybe you’ll get a bit more support, more of a base.”
But despite Bennett’s threats and Dery’s insults, not only does the “government of change” not take an anti-Haredi tack, it has a way to go before freeing itself from Haredi political influence. The government must introduce numerous changes for the benefit of all Israelis, including Haredim. Words will not suffice in this case.
Haredim insist on continuing to live as a state within a state. Until now, Israel’s governments encouraged the separatism and isolationism, mainly by subsidizing this lifestyle. The Bennett-Lapid government provides a genuine opportunity for change on issues that affect Haredim. Not to settle scores, but to promote their integration into the workforce and reduce their influence on factors that add to the cost of living, like kashrut, or having to do with religious coercion, like conversion and marriage.
To that end, the government must emphasize three main issues. The first, and most critical, is education. Haredi institutions conduct themselves as an autonomy and don’t see part of their role as preparing students for the modern job market. The lack of core studies impedes young Haredim from integrating into the military, higher education and the workforce. This perpetuates poverty, economic inequality and reliance on state aid. The government must ensure that Haredi children get an education that is relevant to modern life.
Second, the government must aspire to raise Haredi employment rates to that of the general population. To that end, For that purpose, subsidies for not working (allowances, preschool subsidies and cheaper housing in Haredi cities) must end, in favor of incentives for working. This also critical in light of the high Haredi birth rates, which should dictate a dramatic change in the community’s approach to workforce participation.
Third, the government must offset the rabbinate’s grip hold on everything related to marriage, conversion and the kashrut system. When the Haredi parties can tip the balance in a coalition government, that is impossible. The coalition of change, which left the ultra-Orthodox parties in the opposition, is an opportunity to advance changes that Israel, including Haredi society (even if its leaders won’t acknowledge it), need like the air we breathe.
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The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.