Ultra-Orthodox moving to periphery, presaging increased societal tension

Regev noted that the faster a haredi community moves in to a city, the greater potential for societal tensions, because the original, non-haredi population has less time to adjust to the new reality.

June 4, 2019 10:03
4 minute read.

haredim working 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

More than 40% of haredi housing purchases now occur in the periphery and the West Bank, constituting a sea-change in where the ultra-Orthodox community is choosing to settle, a comprehensive report by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) has found.

This phenomenon will likely lead to increased societal tension between the haredi and non-haredi population sectors, the study’s author has said, bearing in mind the experiences of cities which have witnessed a large and rapid influx of ultra-Orthodox residents.

The figures are part of a broad study conducted by Eitan Regev and Gabrial Gordon of the IDI on trends in the ultra-Orthodox housing sector, which also provides policy recommendations for how the government can assist the haredi population for housing solutions.

Given the rapid increase in the haredi population due to its high birth rate, the National Economic Council has estimated that between 170,000 to 200,000 housing units will be needed for the haredi sector over the next 20 years.

Traditionally, the majority of the haredi community has been largely concentrated in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, but as housing prices there have risen dramatically with the rapid growth of the haredi population and subsequent increase in demand, there has been an increasing trend to move out of those centers.

Beit Shemesh in the Jerusalem district and Elad in the Central District, as well as Ashdod and Petah Tikva, along with the homogeneous haredi cities of Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit in the West Bank, became popular destinations for haredi families over the last two decades.

But these cities too have experienced various housing problems, including rapidly rising housing costs, and haredi families have in recent years increasingly been moving to Arad, Netivot and Ofakim in the south, and Haifa, Tiberias and Safed in the north.

According to the IDI study, 41% of all haredi housing purchases from 2014 to 2019 were in the northern and southern periphery, the Haifa District and the West Bank, more than double 20% in 2000.

Regev observed that currently only 19% of the haredi population lives in the north, south and Haifa districts, meaning that there will likely be a rapid increase in the haredi population in these regions given the 41% rate of haredi housing purchases there.
Such a rapid influx could presage heightened societal tensions between the haredi and non-haredi populations, he said.

These tensions are already being witnessed in Arad, where the Gur hassidic community has clashed with the secular population over municipal resources, as well as in Tiberias where Mayor Ron Kobi has said he will prevent haredim from reaching 30% of the city’s population and has clashed publicly and deliberately with the haredi leadership.

The severe tensions in Beit Shemesh, where the ultra-Orthodox community constitutes a majority, is another example, as are the problems experienced in once secular neighborhoods, such as Kiryat Yovel in Jerusalem.

Regev noted that the faster a haredi community moves into a city, the greater potential for societal tensions, because the original, non-haredi population has less time to adjust to the new reality.

Poverty among the haredi community, as well as its rapid growth, increases the strain on municipal resources, while large numbers of the haredi community qualify for municipal tax discounts causing further financial difficulties for such cities, and increasing resentment, Regev said.

Such concerns, coupled with the cultural clash between religious and non-religious residents makes a combustible mix.

Although the IDI study found that large numbers of haredim are moving into the geographic periphery, it also revealed that the rate of employment and level of income amongst haredi men and women who were in employment before they left Jerusalem and the Central district actually fell, compared to those who remained in the traditional haredi regions.

This is due to the general rate of employment in the geographic periphery being lower in those regions, but constitutes a serious problem when contemplating housing solutions for the haredi sector, since boosting haredi employment has become a key goal for Israel’s economic future, explains Regev.

However, haredi men and women living in the periphery have a higher rate of employment than those in the Jerusalem and Central districts because those who move there do so because of economic distress and so are more interested in working and obtaining employment.

One of Regev’s central recommendations in the study is therefore that if the government is contemplating building a new city designated for the haredi population, like Modi’in Illit in the West Bank, it should not do so in the periphery since this will hamper efforts to increase haredi employment.

The study demonstrated that the haredi community much prefers to live in a homogeneous haredi city, or a city with a haredi majority, but is nevertheless willing to move in an organized manner to specific neighborhoods in established cities where they can create homogeneous haredi neighborhoods if the price is affordable.

Regev also noted the social need for the ultra-Orthodox community to be in close proximity to the major haredi centers in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak and therefore recommends that new cities designated for the haredi population be suitably located.

But he argued that the solution for ultra-Orthodox housing should involve a combination of new haredi cities and the use of old neighborhoods in established cities located at a reasonable distance from the major haredi population centers.

He also stated that individual housing unit costs not exceed NIS 1m. in new haredi cities, and that public transportation be easily accessible in such cities, as well as haredi neighborhoods in existing cities, to enable reasonable commuting times.

Due to the existing trend in haredi families moving to the south and better employment opportunities there than the north, Regev recommended that any new haredi city be built in the Negev, preferably in the eastern not western part of the region.

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