Housing press conference 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi-bashing has become a widespread phenomenon.
But while some of the
criticism directed at the ultra-Orthodox community may be understandable
(non-participation in the labor market and the refusal to serve in the IDF or
any other National Service framework), the wholesale attack on Construction and
Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) was undeserved.
Even before he
presented his program for affordable housing, copies were leaked to the press
and the haredi minister was summarily lambasted for giving preferential
treatment to his own constituency. However, a close look at Attias’s proposals
reveals a mixed bag.
True, Attias decided to deviate from the Trajtenberg
Committee’s recommendations. One of these recommendations was to place
employment or active pursuit of employment at the center of the affordable
housing plan. The Trajtenberg Committee recommended that “fully exploiting
earning capacity” (which means that together a couple must put in 125 percent of
a work week or be actively looking for work) be a condition for receiving
Under the “lowest price for the homebuyer”
program, which pushes housing prices down by awarding projects to building
contractors who commit to building at the lowest cost, those who work or who are
actively looking for employment should at the very least receive preferential
treatment, according to the Trajtenberg recommendations.
Attias ignored Trajtenberg in order to benefit the haredim, many of whom are
unemployed by choice so as to devote their waking hours to Torah study instead
of productive employment. Still, Attias should at least be given the benefit of
the doubt when he says that National Insurance Institute representatives called
to leave out employment as a criterion for being eligible for affordable housing
out of a desire to help the most destitute populations – the haredim and the
Arabs – in which the level of participation in the labor market is the lowest
(Arab women are often discouraged from leaving the house to work for cultural
and religious reasons).
We believe it makes sense to overrule Attias not
because he wants to benefit haredim, but because by adopting the Trajtenberg
recommendations the plan would remain true to its stated goal of providing
affordable housing for the middle class. Other programs such as public housing
projects and subsidized mortgages target the poor. At any rate, while finding a
job is not based solely on “luck” as Attias claimed Wednesday, we should,
nevertheless, be sensitive to claims by various minority groups (haredim,
Ethiopian- Israelis, Arabs) that they face discrimination when looking for work.
The zeal to attack Attias for benefiting haredim should not eclipse this ability
to be sensitive to real discrimination in our society.
leveled at Attias is his decision to give preferential treatment to couples who
have been married longer. Haredi-bashers claim this discriminates against
secular couples, who tend to marry later.
But if Attias is to be believed
when he says that on average couples do not get around to buying a home until
they have been married for seven years, and since no special preference is given
to couples married more than eight years, it seems clear that there will be
little discrimination against secular Israelis.
The readiness to attack
Attias for partiality has also prevented many from looking at the positive
elements of his plan. He adopted a measure that would give preferential
treatment to the handicapped. Also, half of about 5,000 apartments that will be
made available at a discount under the affordable housing program will be
reserved for families in which at least one of the heads – husband or wife –
served in the IDF or performed national service. In the past, such a move would
have been perceived by some as discrimination against Arabs, who are not
obligated to serve in the IDF. But since national service is open to all, this
claim can no longer be made.
In short, it is difficult to argue
conclusively that Attias’s affordable housing plan discriminates in favor of
haredim. Looking closer at the content of his proposal in a serious way leads to
the conclusion that the knee-jerk criticism against him may have guided by
prejudice against his constituency.