|Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post|
Upgrading Israel’s democracy
By JAY BUSHINSKY
Israel’s most popular political slogan – “The People Want Social Justice” – needs two more words: “For All.”
Israel’s most popular political slogan – “The People Want Social Justice” –
needs two more words: “For All.” In the American context, those two words
confirm the Pledge of Allegiance’s definition of the US as a truly democratic
republic based on liberty and justice for all its citizens.
contemporary Israeli context, they would extend the call for a more equitable
distribution of wealth beyond the so-called “middle class” alone. (A more
accurate term for the intended and worthy beneficiaries would be “the working
This proposed verbal supplement is all the more relevant in Israel’s
case now that the activists who staged last year’s protests against this
country’s high cost of living and the consequent difficulties in making ends
meet are about to renew their campaign.
Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s recent claim – that most Israelis enjoy adequate income while their
Arab and ultra-orthodox Jewish fellow-citizens (the so-called “haredim”) do not
– exposes a very serious shortcoming here. Israeli Arabs comprise nearly 20
percent and the haredim nearly 10% of Israel’s population.
just admit that they have social and economic problems, Netanyahu should be
trying to do something about them.
On paper, Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy
equal rights and are eligible for the same quality of services from the
governmental authorities – local and national – as their Jewish counterparts.
But this is not reflected in day-to-day life.
The unemployment rate is
substantially higher among Israeli Arabs than among Israeli Jews, especially
insofar as Arab women are concerned. This is because the incumbent and previous
governments have failed to direct manufacturing firms toward the cities, towns
and villages where Arabs live. Therefore, opportunities for Arab women to find
jobs near their homes are woefully insufficient.
In general, industries
whose output is earmarked for Israel’s armed forces or are owned outright by the
military defense establishment do not hire Arabs. Prior service in the
armed forces is a prerequisite. And since Israeli Arabs are not conscripted
(although they can and some do volunteer) they cannot qualify.
production of weaponry and aircraft constitutes a major segment of Israel’s
industrial base and requires a substantial number of employees. All of the jobs
in that category are filled by Jews. The state provides elementary and
secondary education to Arab girls and boys, but the academic level evidently is
lower than in the Jewish sector. This is reflected in the results of the annual
matriculation tests which are an important factor in applications for admission
to the country’s colleges and universities.
These matters are within the
scope of governmental activity and should be addressed by the national
leadership, including Netanyahu.
The situation of the haredim is
complicated by subtle if not secret deals in accordance with which
ultra-orthodox schools are subsidized by the government in return for
parliamentary support by the various religious political parties.
addition, the succession of Israeli governments, since the days of Israel’s
first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, have allocated ample funding to the
various rabbinical institutions, especially those in Jerusalem and Bnei
The ministry of education exerts little if any influence on their
curricula or pedagogical methods.
With regard to the latter, most of the
learning is by rote and there is little if any emphasis on independent thinking
or analysis with regard to social issues.
The most serious defect in the
haredi sector is that secular subjects such as mathematics, physics, chemistry,
biology and foreign languages simply are not taught. These shortcomings make it
difficult if not impossible for graduates of religious schools (known in Hebrew
as yeshivot) to enter the scientific professions. Their prospects for
gainful income in general are limited to whatever jobs may be available in the
ultra-orthodox sector and make them dependent on the rabbinical leadership for
the rest of their lives.
Here too there is good reason for the ministry
of education to intervene and implement badly-needed and long-overdue
reforms. Otherwise, the current situation in which more than 30 per cent
of the ultra-orthodox community’s males are unemployed and therefore are
dependent on indirect government handouts for their survival and that of their
families will persist.
This state of affairs is not something that the
prime minister simply can mention in the course of a random summation of the
economic status quo. It is an unfortunate and lamentable reality with which he
and his cabinet most cope. And the sooner the better.
With regard to
Israeli Arabs, one cannot but recall the optimism that prevailed during the
prelude to the UN General Assembly’s historic vote for the partition of
Palestine, November 29, 1947, and the concurrent endorsement of Jewish
statehood. Ardent Zionists in the United States predicted that once the Jewish
state came into being, it would set an example for the rest of the world because
of its enlightened and considerate treatment of the minorities within its
domain. Regrettably, that has not happened... yet.
1930s, when Jewish statehood was still far from realization, Chaim Weizmann –
who was destined to become its first president – was quoted as saying that its
democratic nature would be confirmed when an Arab citizen was chosen as its
prime minister. That event appears very far off.
The writer is a veteran