Between separation and empowerment: the struggle of Haredi students

Regarding the claim of difficulties integrating into regular workplace environments, it seems that the number of employees at leading companies such as Intel, where many of our haredi graduates work today, entirely disproves this claim.

By STUART HERSHKOWITZ
September 19, 2016 20:10
4 minute read.
haredi men

‘THE HAREDI community is undergoing a lengthy process of change of outlook regarding such integration.’. (photo credit: REUTERS)

An ongoing social battle is being conducted with regard to the integration of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector into academia, the workforce and society in general. According to forecasts, the haredi sector is expected to comprise some 30 percent of the Israeli population by 2059. The realization of this forecast will lead to turmoil, with high unemployment, poverty and an economic crisis. So it is clear that Israel must increase the haredi community’s rate of integration into academia and the workforce.

The haredi community is undergoing a lengthy process of change of outlook regarding such integration.

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However, unfortunately, various groups in Israel are simultaneously conducting an ideological battle and their actions may damage this process, and even cause damage to what has already been achieved. One of the main issues is the reinstatement of the five-year plan for integrating haredim into academia.

The success of the current five-year plan, which is about to end, is being questioned. The data reveals an increase of 83% in the number of haredi students. However, despite this unprecedented success, some universities in Israel are pushing back against continuation of this plan, while also demanding the closure of separate campuses for haredim, in which the majority of both men and women haredi students currently study.

The argument is that this separation discriminates against women. In addition, other baseless accusations are raised regarding the supposed low academic level achieved within separate campuses, censured learning material and the difficulty facing graduates regarding integration into a non-segregated workplace.

However, the sections of the plan presented to the Council for Higher Education by the universities reveal ignorance and mostly patronization and anti-haredi discrimination.

As someone who has acted for over a decade to integrate haredim into academia and the workforce, I am amazed by the condescending statements that appear in the various appeals, which lead to the conclusion that supposed desire of the universities to integrate haredim is nothing more than lip service.

In reality, they seek to cover up the many achievements that have been attained so far and to stop the transformation that has been at its peak over the past few years.

In their arguments, the opposition reveals a haughty and paternal view of haredi society. Some of the appeals skirt extremely close to racism, referring to the haredi community as a “cult,” and using offensive epithets such as “haredi sheep.” Other sections indicate total unfamiliarity with the haredi community society and contemporary Israeli reality.

The claim that the closure of separate campuses will force haredim to integrate into regular campuses is wrong, misleading and baseless. 71 percent of haredi students currently study on separate campuses, and it is estimated that 65% of them view separate campuses as a necessary condition for their studies, without which they would refuse to set foot in academic institutions. Adopting the opposition’s stance regarding separate campuses will actively push many haredi students out of academic institutions, increase the insularity of the haredi sector and prevent their continued integration into Israeli society.

The opposition’s claim of discrimination against women in the segregated campuses is not only untrue, but in reality is the complete opposite.

If female empowerment is their top priority, they should be the first to congratulate the activities of these campuses, since it is these campuses that have facilitated a transformation among haredi women. Both women’s campuses of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) – Lev Academic Center, produce hundreds of haredi graduates, who previously did not participate in academia or the workforce in any shape or form, and who now integrate into the most prestigious and rewarding professions, such as, inter alia, engineering, computer sciences and accounting. In their fight against discrimination, the opposition actually hinders the female empowerment that these segregated campuses enable.

As for their claim regarding the low academic level and censored materials, the reality presents entirely different facts. Among the many achievements, I will mention the last two CPA accreditation exams, in which the students of JCT, a third of whom are haredi, achieved first and second place among schools in Israel, with 100% success rates on both exams, surpassing opposing universities.

Regarding the claim of difficulties integrating into regular workplace environments, it seems that the number of employees at leading companies such as Intel, where many of our haredi graduates work today, entirely disproves this claim.

It seems that at the heart of the universities’ opposition is their insistence on remaining in the ivory tower, denying the diversity and complexity of society and refusing to invest the resources and effort required to absorb people with unique characteristics.

This senseless insistence on the part of the universities will force us to make do with a handful of members of marginalized populations within academia. Adopting this approach will close the doors on many haredi students and will cause endless problems for Israeli society as a whole.

The writer is vice president of Jerusalem College of Technology.


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