Bennett urges conference-goers to ‘hire haredim, Arabs’

Economics and trade minister pushes government initiative on employment, army conscription.

Naftali Bennett at Ramla conference 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Ramla conference)
Naftali Bennett at Ramla conference 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Ramla conference)
Discussing the government’s new “Equalizing the Burden” legislation, Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday spoke directly – and emphatically – to employers.
“Don’t be suckers,” he said. “Hire Haredim and Arabs.”
Bennett made his comments in Ramle at a conference on the challenges of balancing Israel’s Jewish and democratic characters, including the burden of IDF or alternative national service.
The economics and trade minister said he expected 33,000 haredim to be entering the workforce as part of new legislation, which would bring about a “revolution” on a number of fronts.
He also offered advice for members of the expected haredi workforce, suggesting they “should not became lawyers and accountants but go into hi-tech and engineering.”
In a comic moment, Bennett said he was giving his advice even though he had “made the mistake of becoming a lawyer.” He then apologized to retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, who was present at the conference.
Dorner replied by saying she also thought there were too many lawyers.
Most of Bennett’s talk focused on explaining the principles of the proposed legislation, which he backed. The government is expected to take up the matter in the near future, and the minister said it could be passed within four months.
The law, he said, would get haredim working, get them involved in military or national service, and strengthen the world of Torah study.
Bennett broke down the legislation into two phases. In the first four years, haredim aged 22 or more would be encouraged to join the workforce.
The second phase would involve the conscription of most haredi males below the age of 22 into military or another form of national service; 1,800 of the most talented Torah students would continue to study and receive larger stipends than are currently paid.
Bennett added that the state would not be telling anyone he could not study Torah.
Instead, it would limit its financial support for such study to three years for those not selected each year to be part of the elite 1,800.
He also commented on Bayit Yehudi’s relationship with Yesh Atid, calling it a successful “tactical” alliance and noting that one of the benefits of working with the more secular party would be a law “for the first time in history the State of Israel officially recognizing learning Torah as a value.”
Reflecting on other lessons of the alliance, Bennett said that “even if we disagree, we talk.
Everyone needs to know how to listen.” Turning toward equality and identity in the Israeli-Arab sector, he admitted that at one time there had been “no equality for Arabs,” but implied that since then things had improved.
Bennett did discuss some areas where he had strong opinions regarding the Israeli- Arab sector. On one hand he stated that police needed to do a better job providing security in Israeli-Arab villages and that employers should make greater efforts to hire Israeli- Arab women. On the other hand, he said that respecting individual liberties would not reduce his strident opposition to developing a parallel Israeli-Arab identity as part of the State of Israel.
At one point, a member of the predominantly nationalreligious audience interrupted his speech, asking why he was encouraging the hiring of Israeli-Arab women.
The answer was simple: “Arab women are equal citizens in Israel.”
Also at the conference Rabbi Dov Lior, a controversial figure and chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, expressed support for the coalition’s proposals on legislation for haredi enlistment.
“This is not a decree; they want to arrange things properly,” he said. “These are not the decrees of Tsar Nicolas.
Time will tell and things will settle down.” Lior is a leader of the more conservative wing of the national-religious community, which is generally more supportive of prolonged yeshiva study, even if it comes at the expense of national service.
He expressed concerns earlier this year over reforms that would prevent full-time yeshiva students from continuing their studies if they so wished.
During his speech at the Ramle conference, he reiterated his support for ongoing state funding for these students.
“Someone who dedicates his life to the world of Torah – and Torah study demands day and night toil – the state will recognize him,” Lior said.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.