The Haredim and the Zionist Failure

Don’t let the headline fool you. I only put the word “haredim” in to get you to click on my post. And thank you. ‘Cause the only other way to accomplish that is by inserting the name of a generally taboo body part such as “penis.”

But to be serious for a moment, I have long been concerned by claims that my social sector, i.e. the haredim, are destroying Israel’s chances for prosperity. Most lately this come in the form of a blog from my acquaintance and Facebook friend Amir Mizroch, though it also surfaced in a very enigmatic, or perhaps just elliptic Reuters article claiming that non-participation of the haredi sector was maiming Israeli chances for success in hi-tech.

Though I am still scratching my headover the Reuters article, because I know, or have reason to believe that Amir is indeed a member of the “secular, army-serving, tax-paying, workhorse public” he says “want the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army, do national service, and join the workforce,” I am going to take all of this seriously.

Let’s Do Some Figuring

While I’m not sure that I have ever really addressed the demographics of the problem other than in a Facebook comment to the link Amir put up for his blog posting, let’s begin by taking it for granted that 10% of the population if Israel is haredi, while 40% is Arab.

Those figures may be equivocal, mind you, as the Arab population may already be far closer to 50% than anyone wants to let on. Similarly,  the 10% figure for haredim may well include members of the Mizrachi movement who figure so prominently in crack battle ready brigades that the subject intermittently spawns public concern that the IDF — and specifically highly sensitive sectors of the IDF command — may become “religious.”

But given the well-known, generally accepted and much bandied about figure of 10%, let’s factor in yet another well-known fact that an awesome 60% of haredim are technically unemployed. That means that when Amir Mizroch tells us that the “secular, army-serving, tax-paying, workhorse public want the ultra-Orthodox to … join the workforce,” he’s talking about a flashpoint 6% of the general populace who don’t seem to be paying their way.

Given that the last official Israel unemployment rate that I can Google up off-hand seems to be something like 6.8%, given that that figure is famously based on how many people show up to file for dole, it probably doesn’t include haredim. Since the haredim have never worked, they can’t be collecting unemployment insurance, can they?

What’s more, even though an earlier parallel Globes article sites a slightly lower figure of 6.5% that is said to already be after adjustment, it also quotes BoI governor Prof. Stanley Fischer, who was among those recently short-listed to head the IMF, as saying that Israel is in fact doing pretty well.

So What’s the Fuss About?

Can it be that Amir Mizroch, whose prose I so much admire, is offering a purely emotional argument? As we’ve seen above, even though Israel may well have a whopping aggregated unemployment figure of something well over thirteen and probably even 15%, Prof. Fischer seems to give it a clean economic bill of health. Why then, do voices pop up on the Internet warning that Israel is about to become a 3rd world country and ostensibly because of the haredim?

Granted, the piece of the gov’t spending pie chart taken up by Israel’s defense establishment is equaled only by what is going on in the US. America continues to insist on policing the world, and so must spend and spend liberally on armaments. Israel is hemmed in by enemies — or would be enemies — on every side. Even I can’t deny that. But proportionately overspending on guns and the like is an earmark of banana republic that will starve it’s populace just to shore up the bastions of power.

Note also a fallacy in all argument is that the haredim will be “tax-paying” once they are perfunctorily allowed to join the “workhorse public.” I don’t think so.

In my years as a financial news editor, a recurring published public data factor was the mean wage and what percentage of those employed were actually getting it. The good truth is probably only about 42% of the wage-earning Israeli public make enough to pay anything but National Insurance fees, which haredim also pay. And even the big winners who are paying very hefty Israeli income tax which starts at about something like 23% don’t pay that on everything they take home as part of their earnings are hidden in perks such as vacation, telephone and communications, car allowances, clothing and an expense account.

Moreover, given any number of recent initiatives to get haredim into the workforce as quality control and even bank workers headed by no less than President Shimon Peres, it doesn’t seem that there is any intention to groom haredim to be anything except entry-level hired hands.

Why Draft the Haredim?

I am playing devil’s advocate by bringing this up now. For the moment we’re enjoying a hudna in all the drum beating as the Iran bogey man as the ultimate threat to the existence of the extended Western world is being played out again. But I am sorely tempted to put some logic to this madness.

What Amir Mizroch and economist Dan Ben-David, head of the Taub Center for Social Policy Research cited in the Reuters article mentioned in my introduction may be hitting on is a certain untapped talent missing in the secular Israeli public.

In a article that I immediately posted yesterday to my Google+ feed and David Shamah‘s June 6th posting recommended on today’s ToI, Eugene Kapersky is quoted and quoted again saying that the greatest danger to the Western world or the world entirely as we know it today is not physical but rather, so to speak, intellectual.

Cyberwarfare and hi-tech weaponry are not just the secrets, but rather the basics of Israel’s military tomorrow. Though much vilified, Dan Halutz was probably perfectly correct in relying heavily on Israel’s famed aerial supremacy in the last Lebanon war, even at the expense of cutting spending for ground troops armament and exercises in order to fuel more flight time drilling.

In a world that will never again see the set battles of the 19th and early 20th century military conquest, guerrilla and urban warfare can only lead to wars of attrition like Vietnam.

Though as Ben Waxman has recently pointed out to me in a Facebook discussion, anecdotal information is not data, the information that I am getting here on the ground is that the haredim who are not non-misfits now being drafted into the IDF are being whisked away into technological units.

A friend who is a Vienna-born einikel of the Chernobler rebbe has a grandson in code breaking, and my own children — each  them having received brochures from the IAF — can concur on a satisfactory number of similar cases where young haredim are lodged in IDF hi-tech.

So What Is Going On?

The fact is that haredim make better “soldiers” than the approximately 30% of secular enlistment age Israelis who do in fact enter the IDF in some capacity. And that is because of haredi training.

Remember, anecdotes are not data and I sure each of my readers has met a haredi that doesn’t fit this description, but boys in yeshiva are taught to be punctual, neat, personally clean and obedient. And if they aren’t, they get tossed out, which is why the reader’s personal experience may be of some misfit who wasn’t at all like that.

But beyond military aptitude, the kind of training going on in yeshivas is essentially intuitive rather than scientific. And because what used to be called “artificial intelligence,” though now curricularized into Computer Science, may actually demand a more intuitive approach, those boys with the side-curls may just have a leg up on tapping into it.

Steve Jobs, who was really much more into marketing than coding, only really took off after a trip to the Far East. Jobs was know to have kept only one book by some guru on his personal iPad and read it religiously once a year. Job’s natural father was an Arab whom he avoided recognizing and the Apple founder advocated dabbling in psychedelic substances which break down and dissolve Western cognizance as a prerequisite for landing a job by him.

The point here is that weaving in and out of statements and arguments goes better with an intuitive Oriental rather than a Western empirical approach. Thus the Zionist leaders, who opted to implant the enlightened West in Palestine or, as Netanyahu said in his U.N. General Assembly speech, elected to represent what he called democracy in the Middle East, may have just taken the wrong turn.

Bottom line:  the yeshiva boys may be able to do something graduates of Gymnasia Rehavia can’t. But brow beating is no way to get our help defending the Zionist state, because we have long been inured to that.

What’s more, giving you a hand will surely cause us to lose our grasp on something infinitely more irreplaceable and precious.

Sorry, but you guys just missed the boat.




About the Author
Y.B. Fishel holds cum laude degrees from Princeton and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as written ordinations from members of Israel's highest, ultra-Orthodox authorities. His reason for being around ToI is to provide a chareidi insider's view of what's happening in Israel.