Israel’s Welfare Threat

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel. 


Dan Ben-David, an economics professor at Tel Aviv University and executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Jerusalem, has been stoking fears lately in Israel with a 350-page report that says the country’s economic picture is grim.

The problems, Ben-David says, arise from two sectors: Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox (or haredi) Israeli Jews. Both groups have high unemployment rates and are an increasingly onerous welfare burden on the productive part of the society. Unemployment among Arab men, as Ben-David recently told the Los Angeles Times, now stands at 27%, and for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at no less than 65%.

Ben-David says the unemployment (or more precisely, nonemployment—referring to those who don’t desire to work) rate for ultra-Orthodox men has tripled since 1970 as more and more of them opt for a state-subsidized life as yeshiva students. Meanwhile the tax burden on ordinary Israelis—already augmented by particularly high defense and immigrant-absorption expenditures—keeps getting worse, and some blame it for Israel’s major “brain drain” problem of young academics going to live abroad.

But the scariest—even in a time of the Iranian threat—aspect of Ben-David’s message is demographic. He notes that, while Arabs and ultra-Orthodox together currently constitute less than 30% of the population, they account for nearly 50% of school-age children. Ben-David earlier told Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz that according to current projections, by 2040 “78% of primary school enrollment will be haredi and Arab.” Such an entity would no longer be the Jewish-Zionist-democratic state of Israel, not least because the large majority of both Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox are non- or anti-Zionist and don’t serve in the army.

Ben-David’s is not the only voice to sound these warnings of late. Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv, recently said the situation called for “rebellion” by Israel’s “silent civilian majority” and that “today Israel is probably the only country in the world where private education is being funded by the public, without it having to adhere to a minimum of educational demands”—referring particularly to the lack of secular subjects in the ultra-Orthodox schools. Columnist and TV personality Yair Lapid wrote in a “Letter to My Haredi Friend” that

I can no longer pay. The money is gone. There’s no more left. I don’t have enough to give my children, and I don’t have enough to give yours.

Many believe that both Huldai and Lapid have national political aspirations and so are starting to ride a handy issue. But if so, it only underlines the deep concern about the situation.

Indeed, Ben-David told Horovitz that educational reform is crucial and that Israelis—of all kinds—who are aged 29-54 and have a university degree fare far better:

Among Arab women in that age range who don’t finish high school, fewer than 10% have work, but among Arab women with a degree, the figure is 70%. And it’s around 90% for Arab men and for non-haredi Jewish men and women.

The difficulty is that educational reform in Israel is an intensely political issue. On the one hand, the ultra-Orthodox sector in particular has a deep ideological distrust of secular learning and resists calls to introduce subjects like math, English, and computers in its schools. On the other, in Israel’s fragmented parliamentary system, ultra-Orthodox parties keep wielding pivotal power in coalition governments.

Last year, for instance, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a free marketeer who as finance minister sharply reduced child allowances to ultra-Orthodox families, nearly doubled some of them as the price for getting two ultra-Orthodox parties into his coalition.

At that time there was talk of the two largest secular parties—Netanyahu’s Likud plus former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s Kadima—forming the core of a secular government that would bring about both electoral reform and educational reform, overcoming the ultra-Orthodox resistance to the latter. That idea foundered, though, both on Livni’s personal pique at not being premier and her professed belief in an illusory peace process.

Although some say Ben-David’s projections are exaggerated, even if they’re only partially right the problem will need addressing. For that, at least functional unity among secular parties will indeed be the key—requiring, in turn, leaders with both vision and responsibility on the national level.

  • Sarah Leah Lawent

    You, Ben-David and Lapid are ignorant of what really is going on in the "ultra-religious" sectors of secular education. This is the first article I have read on this site that is so totally without solid background as to be inane.

    • Phil Galey

      Well, Sarah Leah Lawent, you leave a mere bare and unsupported opinion, . . . I'm kind of curious, . . . I live in Oklahoma, . . . I wonder what is "going on" over there in Israel, . . .

  • Hammett

    The underlying problem is that the non-religious majority is not having children – aborting jewish babies they not only have blood on their hand (for which they will have to give an account someday), but are self-destructing their own society.

  • Orcman

    welfare is destructive. I'm on it, because I believe my job was sabotaged and I refuse to get another. (I'm supposedly insane). The Haredi's are on it, because studying the bible is the purpose of life in their view. I'm not sure why the Arabs are on it.
    But ultimately, taking money from the productive and giving it to the non-productive destroys societies.

    • ron

      They have jobs, this article is an exaggeration. But don't bother being honest, keep harping on the big bad haredi population. It's a handy scapegoat allowing you to ignore the real problems in Israeli society. Namely, the utter disintegration of morale among the youth due to the vapid emptiness of secular society.

    • RICK

      orcman….GET A JOB, YOU LOSER!!!!

    • RICK

      ORCMAN….GET A JOB, YOU LEACH!!!

    • RICK

      SCUMBAG!!

  • Shalom Freedman

    This is a most serious problem, and I think the more serious part of it relates to the Haredi population. Why? Because this population can make a tremendously positive contribution to the survival and security of Israel. To do that however it has to do what seems impossible now. It has to take a hard and realistic, not a Messianic look at the situation of the state of Israel. It has to give up all the fake apologetics in which it claims that the thousands of mediocre 'learners' 'studying Gemara' are defending the state more than its soldiers are. It has to admit that it lives on the
    'shnor' and show a bit of respect for others and for itself by encouraging able- bodied men to get into the work – force. Here is where true leadership is needed in Israel, someone who can speak and appeal to this public and provide incentives for it to relate not only to its own narrow short- term view of things but to the long- term well- being of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

    • phil galey

      Dear Shalom Freedman, I live in Oklahoma; I hope that, you and yours are very well, . . . by way of response: as a transplant foreign origin to the emotions and psyche of any individual, in no way can sense of, "the long- term well- being of the state . . . ." provide sufficient motivation for the individual to give his best to any endeavor—we continue to try it as with JFK's, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.", with the result that, than it did for Hitler and his Nazi associates, it doesn't work any better for us, but, it produces societal mis-fits.
      And without more, the basic reasoning as to cause may be effectively summed as a result extensions of that which is to be drawn from that line of scripture which goes: "I am The Lord—that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another."—see how the natural extension carries forward?
      The origination of nations was with God; by family and language, He divided the people into nations; various leaders—taxing powers who were to live for free—then got the idea for permanent state borders, but ended up with changeable borders (at the Treaty of Westphalia).
      What would satisfy YOUR thrust, would be proper allowance of self-interest, . . . only, . . . for that to occur, fiscal policy would have to be changed; but then, the statist types prefer to be seen as supreme, so, . . . there we have it, the state must inexorably grind

    • RICK

      CUT OFF ALL AID AND WELFARE FOR THEM…BELIEVE ME…THEY WILL GET UP OFF THEIR FAT, SELF-ABSORBENT ASSES AND 'WORK' WHEN THEY SEE THEIR KIDS SUFFERING FROM STARVATION…PRETTY SIMPLE ANSWER, HUH??

  • USMCSniper

    The welfare state has got to rank near the top of the biggest government scams in history.

    In a totalitarian state, the ruling regime has the omnipotent power to confiscate people’s land and money. In a democracy, however, government officials have to come up with ingenious ways to force people into consensually giving up their money and their freedom (or to sacrifice other people’s money and freedom). But it does not matter whether it’s a totalitarian or a democratic regime, the driving force for politicians and bureaucrats remains the same: money and power over every aspect of the citizens lives.
    But whether it’s a totalitarian or a democratic regime, the driving force for politicians and bureaucrats remains the same: money and power

    • phil galey

      For some reason, maybe a character limit cut me off, . . .
      Than mere bureaucrats, God’s simple purposes are satisfied through self-interest as seen in a family. What would meet YOUR thrust, would be proper allowance of self-interest, . . . only, . . . for that to occur, fiscal policy would have to be changed; but then, the statist types prefer to be seen as supreme, in the main, because, for the power tax, they are able to live for free, so, . . . there we have it, the state must inexorably grind onwards to destruction—whether Vandals or Arabs or Mongols or Huns, the invading forces inferior, though without the freedoms and free operation of the individual’s benefit through incentive which the outgoing nations squandered, . . .

      • RICK

        WHAT ARE YOU SMOKING, PHIL???

  • Seek

    Haredi Jews, like Wahhabi Muslims, are a blot upon Israeli public life. A few reasons:

    First, as this article notes in detail, they are a drain upon the economy. Their rates of unemployment and welfare dependancy (both under the guise of "religious exemptions") are astonishingly high, higher even than those of American blacks.

    Second, the ultra-Orthodox Jews are political extortionists, using their small parties to extract high favors from Labor or Likud. While widely disliked, they know how to make even the strongest politicians quiver.

    Third, the Haredim are astonishingly ignorant, dogmatic and even brutal in their worldview, incapable of handling even simple much less complex ideas and posessed of a fear and loathing of human sexuality rivaling that of the Taliban. Their gang-style attacks on "immodestly" dressed individuals in their neighborhoods are a national joke among modern Jews.

    Modern Israelis should not give in for an instant to these bullies. The survival of the Jewish nation depends on it. Where is Tommy Lapid (R.I.P.) now that we need him?

    • http://www.leadel.net Alex

      He is living through his son Yair!

  • michael

    The Haredi Jews are heretics who are destroying Israel and Judaism in general. When they outnumber all other Jews Israel will no longer exist.

  • Adam Greenstein

    I enjoy using the Israeli flag as toilet paper.

    • michael

      ya and I enjoy using the face of people like you for target practice.

  • Mischa

    Tell the Ultra Orthodox what it says in the Torah.
    "Those who do not work, shall not eat"
    If they study Torah so diligently, how did they miss it?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/d55may d55may

    It is work to stay on the welfare roll.

  • http://www.leadel.net Alex

    Finally, something sensible from the Frontpage crowd. Kol hakavod. The Haredi are clearly a drain on Israel's economy. It is a very thorny situation now. Currently I'm living in Israel and I hear and read about this stuff all the time.

  • ViewPoint

    The drain of the Haredim and the Arabs on Israel's economy is much less of a problem since Israel discovered the energy mother lode in Dec/09. Israel went from an importer to an exporter. It was also reported that Israel proceeded to discover 2 additional mother lodes… subsequently, is now not only a very prosperous nation, but possibly the wealthiest nation in the mid east. This is not all good, however, because those who covet Israel, (Arab world, U.N., E.U., U.S. and Vatican… to name a few) are now foaming at the mouth in an accelerated frenzy to destroy Israel and take her newly discovered wealth… and so, Israel has far bigger concerns than the dependency of the Haredim and the Israeli Arabs.

    • Sarah Ellis

      Does this mean Israel doesn't need subsidies from the US anymore?
      Because that would be awesome.

  • 080

    The welfare state will continue to exist in all advanced economies. Before you can distribute anything you have to produce it. The Swedes have finally settled on a free market economy and a robust welfare state. In other words they first produce what they want to distribute. Their welfare state is more robust than ours. What can't be done is to have government interference with the economy and at the same time a robust welfare state. The United States is on that path and it will not have a good end. Same for all the southern Mediterranean countries.