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Israel’s Economy: Perhaps Not as Bright as it Appears

Baruch Hashem we say in Eretz Yisrael, armed with the realization that tiny Israel appears to have emerged from the global economic crisis far better than many other more powerful nations – but is that truly the case?

According to Dan Ben-David of the Jerusalem-based Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, things may not necessarily be as chirpy as they appear. Quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Ben-David feels that too many Israelis are simply unwilling to pull their own weight and ultimately, the system is doomed to collapse.

According to state officials, unemployment nationwide is 8%, but this Ben-David explains is not an honest reflection of current realities since that figure does not include those not seeking to work. He put that number at one in every five Israeli males between 35 and 54. They simply don’t want to work he explains, lamenting this startling figure is about 60% higher than the average among nations in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the prestigious OECD that Israel joined this week. This number he explains includes many Israeli Arabs and members of the chareidi community.

According to government figures, the picture is bleak and getting worse, with nearly 27% of Arab men and 65% of chareidim not working. The figure cited for chareidim has tripled since 1970, Ben-David adds.

“We support a lifestyle of nonworking that is pretty unparalleled in the Western world,” said Ben-David, who is also a Tel Aviv University professor. “On the one hand, we have this state-of-the-art part of the economy. Then there is the rest of the country that is like a huge drag.”

True, the Arabs and chareidim today represent less than 30% of the population, but what is significant is that they account for almost one-half of the school age children, which signals trouble down the road. Quoting recent studies, these two segments of the population could comprise as much as 78% of the school age children in coming years.

“Eventually it’s going to break the bank,” the economist said. “We’re on trajectories that are not sustainable.”

While Ben-David paints a worrisome picture, not all are in agreement. One notable who prefers not to accept his dire scenario is Beni Fefferman, the director of the Ministry of Industry & Trade Planning & Research Division. Simply stated, he states the data spanning the past decade shows quite a different picture, that employment rates in both sectors, chareidim and Arabs is on the rise.

He does admit however that due to political realities, the need to form and maintain government coalition, the ruling party generally seeks a “quick fix” rather than a long term solution and in actuality, welfare payments have increase fivefold since 1970 while the standard of living has doubled. He uses the opportunity to point out that as finance minister about a decade ago, Binyamin Netanyahu earned the praise of economists for eliminating monthly child payments, but in his current tenure as prime minister, he reinstated them, almost doubling the monthly amount, faced with the reality of having to form a coalition that includes chareidi parties.

As taxes increase along with unemployment, some are viewing a change of address as a viable option, probing live outside of Israel. Taxpayers at times feel resentment, having to shoulder the burden of paying for an ever increasing population of adults whose lifestyle does not include working.

Ben-David feels the government must act now, if total financial collapse it to be avoided. “In this neighborhood, you don’t get many chances,” Ben-David said. “For us [the opportunity to create a state] only comes around every 2,000 years.”

(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)

4 Responses

  1. Israel’s hiloni sector is doing very well, and some Jews pariticpate. However the Jewish (i.e.Hareidi) and Arab sectors are separate and significant and substantially poorer. The hiloni sector makes a point of crippling the rest of the economy through their intolerance of non-secular lifestyles, which is why one is much more likely to find frum engineers, or doctors, or lawyers, etc., in the United States than in Israel (excluding American-trained immigrants).

  2. Zevulin and Yissichar, one worked while the other studied with the support of the working one and both would earn great rewards in Gan Eden.

    They could not ‘both’ sit and study, one had to work.

    I forget which was which, but lets say for argument sake, that Yissicahr was the one who studied.

    Not everyone can be Yissachar.

    How many of those living lives of just studying, actually
    truly put in enough time and effort, that they will feel fully righteous, when they will have to answer in the Heavenly Beis Din, when they ask him if he ‘earned’ the money used to support him studying, all those years instead of him being the one who worked and supported, Torah scholars?

    Is there a concept of Chillul H-sh-m, when someone who is
    not in the “work world” has a reasonably good idea (or knows for sure) that perhaps he should be instead of
    trying to be one who learns all day, because he knows he really does not actually sit and learn the full day anyway and is just making excuses not to make the hard choice to go out and toil physically and earn a paycheck?

    Learning may be the highest and holiest persuit a person can do.
    But doesn’t it say that the highest is to learn in order to ‘do’ and teach?
    Those in the working world are doing, along with some learning at night and in the morning and on Shabbos.

    This is fully in line with Torah and halacha and those who think ‘everyone’ must learn and not ‘do’ seem to me
    (I am not a Rav and so I am not paskening, I am just expressing my own, unscholarly opinion, for whatever it’s worth) to be sadly mistaken.

  3. If the Hilonim the ruling class in Israel), wanted hareidim (and Arabs, for that matter) to participate in their “1st world” economy, they would stop making assimilation into “western” cultural norms a prerequisite.
    They could adopt strong anti-sexual harassment policies (as we do, i.e., ban yichud and negiah). They could adopt policies such as the American military (among others) that bans “fraternization” between the boss and the person being supervised. They could adopt dress codes that are reasonably decent (or are arguing that one is incapable of programming a computer wearing anything modest). They could require everyone to “be in the closet” (as we do – while frum women frequently are pregnant,no one talks about how they got that way). They could eliminate the requirement of military service for jobs. They could treat yeshiva students and teachers the same way they treat students at an equivalent level in the hiloni university system.

    The reason hareidim don’t participate in the hilonim economy is that the hilonim are a bunch of bigots. We have a status in Israel similar to what Africans had under apartheid, or African-Americans had under Jim Crow. The problem is THEM, not US.

  4. akuperma’s comments are completely out of tune with the Israeli workplace, where I’ve worked for the past 13 years in all sorts of high-tech offices.

    I’ve never been touched contrary to hilchos negiya. I’ve never been forced to be misyached contrary to halacha. When Hilchos Yichud questions have arisen, both here and in the States, I’ve been able to respectfully request that doors be left open or whatever else a Rav advised me.

    I’ve also had office managers happy to get information for me in advance about kashrus at meeting places, offices 100% willing to pay more for flights that are not close to Shabbos, offices with rules that all company events must have food that has at least some sort of kashrus (even if they don’t know enough about the kashrus that I want, they care enough to try). Most offices have had mincha minyanim nearby.

    The difficulty with jobs is that they require education and preparation. Chareidim who grew up in the States or England and got education there have no problem finding jobs in Israel. Chareidim who grew up here and who refused (or whose parents refused on their behalf) to get basic education in computers, math, writing in both Hebrew and English, mechanisms of government, technology, etc., are left without the background needed to get most modern jobs. It’s like trying to be a carpenter without knowing how to hold a hammer, or le’havdil like trying to be a Rebbe without knowing Chumash. Chazal knew that jobs require preparation, that’s why they gave a chiyuv lelamed libno umnus.

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