The greatest threat to the Jewish state

An external enemy is really the only thing that unites Israelis. For that reason, ultimately, nothing poses a greater existential threat to the Jewish state than peace. No wonder Israel’s leaders have such little interest in establishing permanent borders and good relations with their neighbors.

By 2028 an estimated 25 percent of children under 14 will be ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews and currently 60 percent of Haredi men choose not to work. Even without the strains between Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish populations, paradoxically, the greatest strain on the state is being imposed from within.

Daniel Levy writes:

One notable phenomenon in the past decade and a half has been the rapid expansion of the state-funded but independent education system established by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Shas is often a pivotal, if not decisive, player in Israel’s governing coalitions, which over the years has given it the power to direct state resources toward the Shas-run school system.

In many provincial Israeli towns and neighborhoods, Shas schools have come to trump the state-school system in the provision of certain services, such as transportation and hot meals (one benefit of the Shas budgetary bargaining power). Even many parents who are not ultra-Orthodox send their children to Shas schools. Over the past 20 years, the number of Jewish primary school students enrolled at ultra-Orthodox schools has grown from just over seven percent to more than 28 percent.

This trend has great implications for Israeli society and its economy: the Shas system and other ultra-Orthodox schools teach a narrowly religious curriculum that is less geared to providing pupils the skills necessary to compete in a modern economy. A combination of state policies and cultural norms has meant that both the Haredi and Palestinian-Arab communities have low rates of labor-force participation: for example, only 40 percent of Haredi men and 19 percent of Palestinian-Arab women work. To further compound the strain on Israel’s economy, Haredi men often spend a lifetime in state-subsidized religious education centers, or yeshivot. A 2009 report by the Metzilah Center, a think tank in Jerusalem, concluded that without a strong state effort to economically and socially integrate these populations, the “rapid growth of two economically weak population groups … Haredim and Muslims … may deal a blow to Israel’s future as a developed and prosperous state.”

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