This is the first essay in a multi-part series of blogs regarding what the Yesh Atid party has accomplished for Israel during its year and eight month tenure in office
As a result of Yesh Atid’s laws and policies, more haredim are serving in the IDF, more haredim are joining the workforce, and more haredi schools are teaching basic general studies.
Throughout the 2013 election campaign, candidates for the Yesh Atid party repeated a significant statistic – more than 50% of first graders in Israel are ultra-Orthodox or Arab. This is significant because it means that if the status quo persists, twelve years down the road a majority of graduating high school seniors will not view themselves as part of broader Israeli society. They won’t participate in national service, will not avail themselves of higher education, and will certainly lack the skill sets needed to enter the workforce and support their families with dignity. Well aware of what this would mean for our state, both on a value level and on an economic level, one of Yesh Atid’s major campaign promises addressed this reality.
The Supreme Court had demanded that the Knesset pass legislation regarding the issue of the ultra-Orthodox community and the military draft. We promised that if elected, we would create such a law and it would pass the test of equality which the courts demanded. We worked on the law for over a year and, in March 2014, the law passed its final reading in the Knesset. The law sets realistic annual goals for haredi enlistment in both army and national service programs. There was an increase of 39% in haredi recruits during the first year after the law was passed with many serving in new combat battalions which the IDF set up specifically for this population. In addition, Yesh Atid was responsible for obtaining defense ministry approval for the first time ever for the establishment of a haredi hesder yeshiva . This will serve as a major catalyst for haredi enlistment in the coming years. We are confident that the annual goals, determined with the input of rabbis from the community will continue to be met.
Increased numbers of haredim serving in the army and national service is not the most significant outcome of the law. Prior to the law’s passing, tens of thousands of haredim who had no sincere interest in remaining in yeshiva or kollel did so anyway because, since they never served, Israeli law prohibited them from joining the workforce while within potential draft years. The new law permits haredim ages 22 and over at the time of the law’s passage, to leave yeshiva and kollel to go to work even if they have not served. We made sure that 500 million NIS was included in the state budget to pay for career training and job placement for this community and we have seen a 300% increase in haredim turning to government job programs since the law passed. I, personally, head the Knesset taskforce to help haredim enter the workforce. The projects which we initiated, including the dedicated “All Jobs for Haredim” website, receive an average of 500 resumes from haredim per month as we assist them in their job search and facilitate job placement.
The benefit of haredim going to work is three-fold:
1 – Their families no longer live in poverty.
2 – Instead of the state providing for these families they now contribute to the state’s tax revenue.
3 – Offices and companies throughout Israel become a meeting place between the ultra-Orthodox and secular populations which leads to greater respect between the populations as they get to know one another. The result is greater unity and also a more moderate ultra-Orthodox community.
Yesh Atid policies relating to the haredi community have yielded one last remarkable achievement – and it may be the most important one. Shortly after the January 2013 elections, moderate haredi leaders told me that the most important thing that we could do for the haredi community was to get basic general studies into their schools.
And, we have done just that. Forty two haredi schools opened this year with basic general studies and the plan is in place to reach 100% of schools which receive government funding by 2018. I have visited some of these schools and the students, mainstream haredim from mainstream haredi homes, are thriving.
The haredi parties have certainly taken note of these changes. They have already said that their goal is to get back into the government and “turn the clock back.” The shame is that other parties would have no problem accommodating that request and undoing all the progress in terms of enlistment, employment, and education, as long as it would enable them to form a government.
We are very proud that we have fulfilled this campaign promise and achieved even more than we anticipated in the short time span of just one year and eight months. We look forward to waking up on March 18 after the elections and getting right back to work on these and many other crucial issues facing Israel today while also looking ahead towards its future.