Un-Ultra-Orthodox: The Further Secularization of Israel’s Government
Although nothing is set in stone, it appears that Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties are going to be excluded from Binyamin Netanyahu’s impending coalition. Because these factions have long been a fixture in Israeli cabinets, it is certain that such a change will seriously reshape the face of the Jewish state. For years, the ultra-Orthodox “have used political clout to win generous government subsidies, evade compulsory military service and attempt to impose their conservative social mores.” It is undoubtedly the goal of their opponents to muffle this as-of-yet powerful voice, and to use the time they have without the ultra-Orthodox in their coalition to reconsider and remake the laws that concern them.
It seems strange that such a large (and rapidly growing) segment of the population would have their representation stifled in the new cabinet. The ultra-Orthodox currently make up 10 percent of Israel’s population, and that number is projected to grow to 15 percent by 2025. However, this growing population, mixed with the lifestyle that Orthodoxy mandates, presents systemic problems for the Israeli social system. The ultra-Orthodox spend their lives studying the Torah, often on government subsidies. Their schools teach in-depth Jewish religious doctrine, and skimp on math and science. This leads to higher levels of unemployment within the population, and the government subsidization often continues as the older ultra-Orthodox continue religious study while collecting welfare payments.
It isn’t difficult to imagine what sort of impact this has on Israel’s budget. And as Yair Lapid enters the government with a mandate to fix the country’s financial problems, it seems natural that he would start here. But he’s not the only one who wants to see some change. The younger ultra-Orthodox population is straying from the separatist lifestyle their predecessors want to hold onto. They do not want to fall into the difficult situation of complete government dependency. Even further, their social conservatism is softening slightly, as they begin to accept the open societal coexistence of men and women that the more activist ultra-Orthodox seriously oppose.
I wonder if the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox will become a failed attempt at change, brought about by some momentary faith in Yair Lapid, or if it is part of a larger move toward a more “post-Zionist” Israel. That is to say, while the implicit Jewish character of Israel will certainly remain in tact, the government’s willingness to appease the ultra religious will slowly erode.
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