Rivlin meets with Haredi Mayors.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
From the genesis of his presidency, Reuven Rivlin has pinpointed the Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sectors as targets for special attention as the future joint majority of Israel, frequently citing the number of children from these groups in elementary schools, each time noting that their ratios in the education system are increasing.
On Monday, Rivlin met at his official residence with mayors and heads of haredi municipal councils including: Betar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein who is chairman of the Forum of Haredi Regional Councils, Bnei Brak Mayor Hanoch Zeibert; Modi’in Illit, Mayor Yaakov Gutterman; Bet Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul; Elad Mayor Yisrael Porush; Emmanuel Mayor Ezra Gershi; Kiryat Ye’arim Regional Council Head Avraham Rosental; and Rechasim Regional Council Head Itzik Reich.
Curiously, Rivlin who almost always has a kippa in his pocket, greeted his guests bareheaded, almost as if to set the stage for mutual tolerance and understanding.
Prior to discussing the future of haredi communities in Israel and how to get them to partner with mainstream society, however, Rivlin addressed the issue of recent protest demonstrations by mostly young Israelis of Ethiopian background. The protesters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv had exposed an open wound, he said, adding that their cry was born out of pain, distress and anger, from a feeling of discrimination, racism and lack of resources.
“We didn’t pay sufficient attention to it. We didn’t see.
We didn’t listen,” he said.
Some of the best and the brightest of the nation’s youth were among the demonstrators he noted – outstanding students and soldiers who had completed their army service.
“We must give them answers,” he declared.
At the same time, Rivlin continued, it must be said loud and clear that while protest is a legitimate and vital tool of democracy, violence is not and offers no solution. The president commended both the police and the protesters for demonstrating control, and said a small, wild and violent group must not be permitted to silence a legitimate cry.
“We are not strangers to each other; we are brothers,” he stated, urging the elimination of incitement. “We are one people, citizens of Israel and Israel belongs to us all.”
Getting back to the issue at hand of partnering of the haredi sector with mainstream Israel, Rivlin again dwelt on one of his favorite themes – that by 2018, haredi children will represent 25 percent of the country’s first graders which is a major contributing factor to relieving the ultra-Orthodox of their minority status and which, according to Rivlin, demands partnership between haredim and the mainstream public through the creation of a dialogue of understanding between different sectors of the population.
The president emphasized that all citizens of Israel are responsible for the country’s social, economic and existential future, and stressed the importance of adding core subjects to the haredi teaching curriculum and integrating more haredim into the labor force.
He urged the different sectors to stop venting viciously against one another and cited the situation in Nepal, where religious organizations are working side by side with the IDF and members of the Israel Embassy, saying he wants to see the same spirit of partnership here.
Rubinstein said he and his colleagues had come to listen and to be heard, calling mutual responsibility a Jewish tradition that is being evidenced in Nepal by the close cooperation between ZAKA, Chabad, the IDF and the Israel Embassy.
He lamented, however, that this spirit of cooperation was not emulated in politics, saying that, in coalition negotiations, the demands of every party are legitimate except those of the haredim.
“When we ask for an additional kindergarten or extra classroom we are accused of extortion,” he said.
As for integrating more haredim into the labor force, Rubinstein said that when the plan was first adopted, there was some mixed reaction because study is so important to the haredi lifestyle, though not all haredim are capable of studying and not all want to study all the time. The idea of more opportunities for haredim to improve their incomes appealed to him, he said, noting that he had written to the government minister responsible to request permission to construct an industrial zone in his city but that he’s