Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Two Roads Taken Towards Israeli Integration: Arabs & Haredim

Israel has entered a new era with its two major non-Zionist sectors finally moving to integrate into general society. But the path taken by the ultra-Orthodox Haredim is almost diametrically opposite from the Israeli-Arab approach. Complicating matters even more is the fact that in general, most non-Haredi, Jewish Israelis are unhappy with each – for radically different reasons.[1]

The Israeli-Arab approach to integration is relatively straightforward: better education, and from there professional advancement within Israel’s general economy. They have successfully “conquered” nursing, pharmacy, and dentistry – with lesser (but still substantial) inroads in medicine (physicians), academia (professors, lab assistants), and civil service (police, government clerks). To be sure, integration is minimally residential, but that’s because most Arab-Israelis prefer to live within their own cultural milieu. Nevertheless, even that’s changing among the young, with increasing numbers moving to such “liberal” cities as Tel Aviv and Haifa. In short, although most Israeli-Arabs can hardly be called “Zionist” (and have serious problems with the Jewish Nation-State Law passed by Netanyahu’s government), regarding “socio-economic integration” they simply want to level the playing field so that they too can play equally by the rules of the game.

It’s not surprising that this does not sit well with certain sectors of Israeli society who still view their Arab compatriots as anything but “patriots”. The trepidation, though, is not merely related to security; there is also a modicum of racism (or “religious xenophobia” if you will): “intermarriage” (albeit at present very low) is another fear of theirs, when Israel’s Arabs have greater social interaction with young, (increasingly) secular Jews on the college campuses and elsewhere.

The Haredi picture is almost the mirror image of the Israeli-Arab. First, whereas almost all Israeli Arabs are interested in some form of integration – whether economic, social or political – most Haredim still wish to maintain distance from general Israeli society in many fields of endeavor, especially education and to a slightly more limited extent residential housing.  Nevertheless, there exists a growing number of the ultra-Orthodox who are moving into other general areas of Israeli life – but with a big difference from their Arab counterparts. In a nutshell, they want to integrate on their own conditions.

This is especially the case with almost everything having to do with gender. First, some background. Everything in Haredi society that has to do with women is segregated – to an extent that is extreme even by general misogynous standards. There are no women on their political party lists; none has ever served in the Knesset on an ultra-Orthodox list. All public get-togethers have strict separation between the sexes; indeed, at weddings, the men can’t even see the women and vice versa. And most extreme of all (at least from a religious law perspective), although their newspapers do hire women journalists, their first name is never printed – it will always appear as something like “S.R. Schwartz”. As for a picture of women, forget it: public billboards, newspaper ads, and the like are “frau-rein” (lacking women altogether).

So it comes as no surprise that as more ultra-Orthodox enter college programs of study, they are demanding strict gender segregation there too – not with a divider (mehitza) in the classroom, but rather dual-track programs: one exclusively for women (with male and female lecturers), the other exclusively for men (only male lecturers – God forbid that these students should come into contact with an intelligent woman!). More amazingly (and highly controversial), several colleges are actually providing them with such dual programs of study, notwithstanding huge anger among the faculty.

The same is true in public transportation. Buses that run through some Haredi neighborhoods have women seated in the back and men in the front. This is not an official policy of the bus companies (illegal by Israeli law), but a “de facto” situation – until some “modern” woman gets on and refuses to go to the back, in which case the Haredi passengers make her feel like some unwanted invader.

The list goes on – even to the extent that the Israeli Army has established units for Haredi soldiers in which army women are kept to a minimum, if at all. Not to mention that almost a decade ago Israel’s two Chief Rabbis demanded of then IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to allow religious soldiers to leave army events in which women appear as singers in order not to transgress the (contested) Jewish law prohibition for males listening to a female singing voice.

In short, there’s assimilation (Israeli Arabs) and then there’s integration through reverse incorporation (Israel’s Haredim). True, there’s always a need for compromise when two societies with different values try to mesh, but certainly that should not come at the expense of the majority conceding its core principles.

[1] The core of this article’s thesis belongs to my good friend Jacob Weiss, former General Counsel of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Kudos!

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published three books and 60 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. For more information and other publications (academic and popular), see:
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