The election campaign has so far been focused on the nature of the statements, adherence to the law and the morality of payments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Framing the situation like this is great for Netanyahu, who likes to portray himself as a victim persecuted by hostile powers, but also for his rivals in the Kahol Lavan party, who are having a hard time agreeing on clear positions and are afraid to antagonize voters by expressing any.
But the spotlight on the leader must not obscure the critical decisions that have to be made on fundamental moves that will determine the State of Israel’s future, even after Netanyahu is replaced. The driving force in Israeli society in recent years has been the growing demographic, economic and political strength of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) minorities. The “mainstream,” whose weight in Israel’s population is shrinking, would prefer to ignore these minorities and go about their business as if they didn’t exist, or at least as if they were not part of the Israeli identity. But that’s a dangerous illusion that is detached from reality.
On Monday, an article in the Hebrew edition of TheMarker presented international comparisons among the skill levels of adults, reflecting their ability to integrate and advance in the workplace. The findings ought to terrify any Israeli who cares about the country’s future. Non-Haredi Jews’ skills are lagging around 8 percent below the average for OECD countries – not something to be proud of, but a gap that could probably be closed.
But among the Haredim, the skill levels are 19 percent below that average, and among Arabs, 103 percent below. In the weighted result, Israel trails the reference group by 28 percent.
Such gaps in education and skills are very hard to bridge even if a great effort is made to do so. But Israel under Netanyahu has done the opposite, and is actually trying to broaden and deepen the disparities, which will lead the Israeli economy to the bottom of the OECD rankings.
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The reasons Israel is faltering are known: Haredi men don’t work and instead live off government allowances, and the state discriminates in every possible way against Arab society. This doesn’t involve missteps by the country’s leadership or a lack of attention, but rather the declared ideology of the ruling party and the person at its helm.
Netanyahu promises that if he wins the election, he will continue the close alliance with the Haredim, the price for which is paid by secular and traditional citizens who have to work and through their taxes subsidize Torah study that does not lead to workforce integration. And he’s proud of the anti-Arab discrimination in all its forms, from the passage of the nation-state law to the sweeping disqualification of Arab candidates as enemies of the state. It’s a shame that Benny Gantz and his partners in Kahol Lavan are running away from the challenge, trying to mimic Likud instead of presenting a program to save Israel from the abyss.