‘We want social justice!” protesters roared this summer. Tents lined the
streets, demanding a fairer economy, support of the working class, housing
solutions and more. The tents have mostly gone, and the Trajtenberg Committee,
appointed to give recommendations to the government in response to the public
protest, has released its report.
Protest leaders did their utmost to
stay within the scope of economic demands. They avoided addressing the
inevitable societal conflicts that might have been brought out in order to
provide the necessary solutions.
They also didn’t speak about the larger
questions of social justice.
In the face of the expected vehement
political resistance, there should be great interest in Hiddush’s recently
released 2011 Israel Religion and State Index. It reveals both additional
dimensions of social justice that are lacking in the country today, and provides
compelling backing for some of the Trajtenberg Committee’s
It also demonstrates how far government policies are
from the will of the public.
Trajtenberg didn’t keep to the protesters’
“political correctness”; he had to come up with solutions, not just list
grievances. He rightly stressed that a major source of the frustration over
social injustice stemmed from “sectors in the population that do not
sufficiently partner in bearing the burden, both on account of their low
participation in the workforce and on account of their avoiding national service
in general and military service in particular.” Everyone understood that this
was primarily directed at the haredi sector, as did the haredi political
parties, which were quick to reject the report.
In the reports specific
recommendations, the committee emphasized the importance of enforcing the core
curriculum (math, sciences, English and civics) in the ultra-Orthodox
educational system, limiting the period of state subsidies for studying in
yeshivot, increasing funding for professional training, and drastically
escalating the participation in military/civil service, among other things.
These are all aimed at significantly increasing ultra- Orthodox participation in
the workforce and ensuring a more equitable share in the national burden. The
committee laid down the principle that “Social justice means a correlation
between the contribution and effort of the individual, and the reward given to
the individual in each and every sphere.”
While exaggerated accounts in
the haredi press maintain that the Trajtenberg Committee adopted the “Hiddush
Torah” regarding their sector, we at Hiddush take some pride in presenting these
issues to the committee and demonstrating their effect on the increased burden
on the middle class.
Eli Yishai, the Shas interior minister, has
responded to the Committee’s findings with contempt, stating that “the weakest
sectors have been left behind.”However, commentators, including in the haredi
press, saw through his public statements and attributed his strong opposition on
this matter to the recommendations’- far-reaching impact on the benefits and
privileges enjoyed by the haredi sector.
THE DATA from the 2011 Index is
clear: 64 percent of Israeli Jews view the tension between secular and ultra-
Orthodox as the most or second-most acute domestic conflict in the
Only 30% view the tension between rich and poor as such. In
addition, 87% believe ultra-Orthodox young people should be obligated to do
either military or national service; 79% favor reducing subsidies for students
in yeshivot so as to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to join the workforce; 80%
maintain that core curriculum studies should be mandatory in ultra-Orthodox
schools as they are in other schools; and 65% of the Jewish public believes that
yeshiva subsidies and the absence of ultra-Orthodox men from the workforce are
some of the essential reasons for the heavy burden on the middle
These economic impacts are further exemplified by leading
Prof. Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel, holds
that the main problem facing the country’s economic growth is the
non-participation of ultra-Orthodox men in the workforce.
Kandel, head of the National Economic Council, holds that Israel could be one of
the 15 richest countries in the world, if only haredi men and Arab women
participated in the workforce relative to their size in the population. Prof.
Dan Ben- David, who heads the Taub Center, repeatedly reminds us that if we
don’t address these issues, Israel faces the threat of slipping into the
economic state of a developing country.
Yishai says he opposes the report
because it does not speak up enough for the poor, but it is he and his own party
who have facilitated many of the root causes creating these economic
THERE ARE many aspects of social justice that go beyond the
economy and require urgent change in Israel. I will only refer to the arena of
religion and state. How can one seriously advocate social justice while denying
hundreds of thousands of citizens the basic human right to marry, or when women
are pressured to sit in the back of public buses every day, or when Sephardic
girls are denied admission into Ashkenazi-dominated haredi schools in the name
of “religion?” Clearly such religious coercion as exists in Israel is not based
on wide public support. Regarding all these phenomena and many others, the
Religion and State Index shows a large majority opposing them. When asked their
opinions regarding making the Declaration of Independence’s promise of “freedom
of religion and conscience” a reality, 83% of respondents expressed support! Not
surprisingly 80% expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of
religion/state matters and 62% expressed support for freedom of marriage and
legal recognition of both civil and religious marriages of all streams in
Judaism. A similar majority supports equal recognition of all conversions to
Judaism, whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform.
comparable result was seen in a recent poll commissioned by the Ministry of
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, headed by Yuli Edelstein, which
showed that 63% view people who converted to Judaism under Reform or
Conservative auspices as Jews. Needless to say, Edelstein has not seen this wide
public support as reason to urge a more pluralistic policy in the ongoing “Who
is a Jew” saga. It is also worth noting that studies done by the Central Bureau
of Statistics demonstrate that 60%-65% of the Jewish public supports allowing
civil marriages here, relaxing Shabbat restrictions, and more.
provides both a context and background to the very critical report on Israel
published recently as part of the US State Department’s International Religious
There is clearly a huge gap between the current
government policies on these matters and acceptible standards in all Western
democracies. This won Israel the dubious grade of zero on a comparative scale
measuring religious freedom in the recently published “Democracy Index” recently
published by the Israel Democracy Institute. It places Israel next to Syria,
Saudi Arabia and China. No parallel to the breaches of religious freedom in
Israel can be found in any Western democracy.
Will it take a
“culturkampf” (culture war) to finally realize the promise of religious freedom
and equality, as prophesied by Chaim Weizmann in his 1947 blueprint for the
state-to-be and the challenges it would face? Hopefully not. It is high time for
Netanyahu and his fellow leaders to listen to the public before this culture war
breaks out. World Jewry also needs to speak up and realize that fulfilling the
vision of religious freedom and equality is a global Jewish interest of the
highest order, and its absence is a major hindrance to Israel’s future and
The writer is the head of Hiddush – Freedom of
Religion for Israel.
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