Bennett: Israel needs ultra-Orthodox to draft into workforce, not IDF

When he outlines his worldview on integrating the ultra-Orthodox into higher education and the workforce, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a former commando, frequently resorts to military analogies.

The issue is a “national mission of the highest order,” an “existential challenge,” he said during an August 24 interview with The Times of Israel in Tel Aviv (the first part of the interview is available here), likening Israel’s economy to a stretcher carried by various medics, who have to distribute the weight between them.

But as for drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the Israel Defense Forces, a longstanding hot-button issue in Israeli society, the military-oriented Jewish Home party leader made clear that he views their integration into academia and the workforce as a far greater priority.

“Look, everyone focuses on the military, but the reality is that our military is big and strong, and Israel can survive with or without the Haredim in the military,” said Bennett, whose Jewish Home party is partnered with the ultra-Orthodox parties — vociferously opposed to a draft of their constituents — in the coalition.

The ultra-Orthodox community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from IDF service for full-time Torah study, but the High Court in 2012 deemed the Tal Law that anchored that status as unconstitutional. A large percentage of Haredi men have also traditionally eschewed employment in favor of religious studies.

“Israel cannot survive without the Haredim fully integrated in the workforce. Something’s got to give. I mean, there’s going to be less and less people generating taxes, more and more consuming tax money. At some point it doesn’t work,” he said. “We’re sort of nearing that point, but the good news is the Haredim are joining” the workforce and enrolling in universities.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at a conference of school principals in southern Israel ahead of the school year. August 2017 (Yossi Zamir/courtesy)


In the interview, scheduled ahead of the start of the school year on Friday, Bennett also reported “traction” in encouraging East Jerusalem schools to adopt the Israeli curriculum over the Palestinian one, in exchange for financial incentives from the ministry, though the process, he said,…

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