May 22, 2012

THE ENEMY WITHIN:

The Fight Over Who Fights in Israel (JODI RUDOREN, 5/19/12, NY Times)

[T]he battle over the draft is really a proxy for a more fundamental fight over Israeli identity itself, a cleavage here that some see as a far greater threat to the future of the state than its external enemies.

Haredim currently make up about 9 percent of the population, but by some estimates collect as much as half of the welfare payments -- yeshiva students get subsidies, and many depend also on public housing, as well as direct payments for the poor. Work force participation among Haredi men is about 35 percent, and their schools emphasize Torah study at the expense of math, English and science. Astronomical fertility makes the situation all the more dire: by 2030, one demographer recently estimated, this impoverished, ghettoized community will be close to a quarter of the Israeli population, something virtually everyone sees as unsustainable.

The resentment, even demonization, of Haredim is deep and growing, most profoundly among the strictly observant Jews known here as Modern Orthodox or National Religious. In Ramot, an elegant area of East Jerusalem, and in the exploding city of Beit Shemesh, many of these religious Jews -- people whose children study in yeshivas before and after their army tours; people who find time to study Torah as an avocation alongside serious careers; in some cases men so religious they do not shake hands with women -- talk about having to leave their beloved neighborhoods because the Haredim are taking over. What to think, as Zehava Alon, a leader of the universal-draft movement put it, of a state where "there is a law that says our kids' blood is less valuable"?

Menachem Friedman, professor emeritus of sociology at Bar Ilan University, said, "That in the Jewish state, people will consider the ultra-Orthodox as 'the enemy' is a tragic thing.

"Most of the people hate the Haredim," he added. 

Posted by at May 22, 2012 6:35 PM
  

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