Israel’s Challenge of Integration

The two major non-Zionist segments of the Israeli population, Israeli Haredim (strictly Orthodox Jews) and Palestinian Israelis have for long largely remained outside of the country’s economic mainstream. Poverty is endemic in both sectors as Haredi and Palestinian households typically have only one breadwinner with Palestinian women in Israel typically being homemakers and Haredi men in Israel typically being full-time yeshiva (Talmudic seminary) students living off government stipends.

Furthermore have elected representatives of both communities historically taken quite peculiar attitudes towards integration into the political life in the Jewish nation state. Haredi political parties are focusing on facilitating yeshiva life and promoting religious coercion against non-Haredi Jewish Israelis. Until Ra’am (Hebrew acronym for the United Arab List), the southern wing of the Islamic movement (the Israeli branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) in 2021 joined Israel’s government had Israel’s Palestinian politicians for decades focused on polarizing Palestinian identity politics and their rhetorical Anti-Zionism left them politically isolated in the Knesset with little political influence. Ra’am joining the Israeli government in ensuring vast investment in the Palestinian sector in Israeli society is indeed a game-changer and the question is when a Haredi equivalent political party will appear that will promote the true economic interest of the Haredi sector in Israel?

The real problem behind the endemic poverty and economic underdevelopment in both sectors is however the lack of gender equality. The Israeli government needs to abolish tuition for academia and ensure that all state-funded schools teach the importance of gender equality to their students while respecting the strictures of all religions. In fact is the lack of gender equality the real underlying reason for Haredi men and Palestinian women being gainfully employed to such a low extent in Israel. Israel needs to learn from other developed countries how historically previous homemakers were integrated into the economy. Courses for professional training need to be tailored specifically for Palestinian women in Israel, including where helpful through limited gender segregation as in Haredi higher education in Israel. Subsidies and grants for yeshivot and yeshiva students should all be abolished to end all current economic incentives for a non-productive lifestyle for Haredi men. Those Haredi men who can afford to study full-time in yeshiva or are able to raise funds from sponsors for this purpose should remain full-time yeshiva students, but no one should study on the dole.

This needs to be part of a general strategy for gender equality in Israeli society and the realistic goal that needs to be set is to reach Scandinavian levels of gender equality throughout Israeli society.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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