Good Reason to Be Afraid
By Nahum Barnea • Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 2) / Translation: Didi Remez • Coteret
Every day we are scared into believing that Israel is on the verge of destruction. On Sunday it’s Iran. On Monday it’s missiles making their way from Hamas and Hizbullah. On Tuesday it’s the Palestinians. On Wednesday it’s the Syrian nuclear plant. On Thursday it’s Obama. On Friday it’s the earthquake that is certain to come and kill tens of thousands. On Saturday we rest a bit, and on Sunday we return to the cycle of fear.
The report on the state of the nation, published recently by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, adds to the scare list. A very serious addition. The report, which relies on the Central Bureau of Statistics, discusses internal trends within Israeli society which, left unchanged, will lead to its future destruction.
One statistic is employment: the level of male employment is among the lowest in the western world. A second statistic is the student population: if trends of the recent decade persist, thirty years from now 78% of all elementary students in Israel will be either ultra-Orthodox or Arab. Only 14% will be enrolled in the general state schools (today half the students are either ultra-Orthodox in private schools or Arab). A third statistic is student level: the achievements of Israeli students are among the lowest in the Western world. A fourth statistic is the standard of living, which is on the rise, but constantly eroding compared to other developed countries. A fifth statistic is public expenditure on health, which is declining.
A large part of the problem resides within two sectors, whose relative size within the population is growing rapidly: the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox. The impressive expansion in these two sectors should have brought down the ghetto walls which have been segregating them from the majority of Israelis. This has failed to occur. The unemployment level among Arab men stands at 27%. The unemployment level among Arab women stands at 75%. The situation is even more desperate among the ultra-Orthodox: 65% of all men are unemployed (unemployment among women is actually lower — 53%). According to the report, even if these two populations are omitted from the charts, Israel is still lagging behind all Western countries in its employment levels.
Director of the Taub Center Professor Dan Ben-David is convinced that within only a few a years, Israelis will be unable to continue to support the non-productive sectors. A social eruption will occur. The question that remains is whether the eruption will take place in time, when mending things is still possible.
The solutions are fairly obvious: Arab Israelis, men and women, must be integrated into the work force. This requires a great investment in their education and professional training, and opening many opportunities to them. The number of foreign workers must be reduced to minimum. The ultra-Orthodox community must be transformed from a learning society, or a supposedly-learning society, to a working one. Ultra-Orthodox schools must teach the core curriculum. Much more must be invested in public education. One measure that will promote entry into the work force is the reduction of the allowances to large families and yeshiva students. But these sanctions will not suffice. People must be encouraged to work.
The wall against which all these moves will shatter is political. The ultra-Orthodox rabbis and the subordinate politicians are, as yet, unwilling to come to terms with the responsibility that comes with size. They sit in the coalition with the purpose of thwarting any effort to change their status. When they heard of the report, they stuck their head in the sand. They accused the Taub Center of hating the ultra-Orthodox.
The government in its current composition is unable to face up to this challenge. When the government is incapacitated, a vacuum forms, and in come politicians with ambitions. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai delivered a harsh speech yesterday against the ultra-Orthodox ghetto walls. He did not bring down the walls, but perhaps his speech is indicative of his future plans.
Israel has long since left its revolutionary stage. It is incredibly hard to change one’s habits. It therefore incredibly difficult to imagine that this report, or any other, will elicit change. Besides, why fuss about something that will happen ten years from now, when you can fear next year’s Iran?
[Hat Tip: Didi Remez • Coteret.]