A curious piece in the LA Times that questions Israel’s ability to thrive into the future (though the Palestinians are tellingly absent from the equation):
As someone who invests in the Israeli economy, I know firsthand that Israel’s strength lies in its educated workforce. It used to be said that to make a small fortune in Israel, you needed a large one. That is simply not true anymore. Israel’s economy is ripe for investors seeking a strong return.
But there is an impediment to continued economic growth in Israel: the current dynamic of strong state support for ultra-Orthodox regulations.
Today, Israel’s economic and overall security is under threat from the increased hold that the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, have on religion for Jews in Israel. Although, according to the 2006 census, only about 8% of Israelis consider themselves ultra-Orthodox, state funding flows to everything from segregated public transportation to religious education in order to accommodate a lifestyle that leads to a less educated, less competitive workforce. If this continues, it will challenge Israel as a global modern economy.
For example, in Israel, ultra-Orthodox schools receive full public funding despite their failure to implement the core curriculum of general studies required by the Ministry of Education. Haredi boys receive minimal instruction in math and language arts during elementary school. Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas (religious schools) for high school age boys teach no general studies whatsoever.
And these schools are not teaching an insignificant number of young people. By 2025, 22% of all Israeli children are expected to be Haredi. So, if the government continues to subsidize these inferior programs, within 15 years nearly a quarter of all Israeli children will not be receiving a basic education, and sooner rather than later the economy and commerce will suffer.
In Israel today, two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox men spend their days studying the Torah and Talmud and do not participate in the workforce. Their unemployment is subsidized by the state to the tune of about $1.3 billion a year. There is nothing inherent in ultra-Orthodox religious tenets that keeps believers from working: In countries such as Britain and the United States, ultra-Orthodox families do work because they know that they can’t depend on outlays from the state. Israel must adopt similar rules if it wants a first-class economy.