Tel Aviv’s struggle to integrate ultra-Orthodox, Arabs raises economic fears

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish girl walks past a shop in Bnei Brak, Israel, on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 July 2017

Tel Aviv’s struggle to integrate ultra-Orthodox, Arabs raises economic fears

BNEI BRAK, Israel: Chaim Rachmani spends his days studying Jewish religious texts in the Israeli town of Bnei Brak, whose crowded streets brush up against the office towers of Tel Aviv. He has no plans to look for work — ever.
While dressed in a pinstriped business suit, Rachmani is among half of all ultra-Orthodox Israeli men with no job. This trend in a rapidly growing community — along with employment problems among the Arab minority — is raising concerns about the long-term health of an economy now in the midst of a boom.
“My intention is to study for the rest of my life. I do it because I love it,” said 25-year-old Rachmani. “When you are taught from a young age to learn, you like it and don’t want to stop.”
He feels no need to venture beyond the walls of his yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish seminary, to seek paid work. Rachmani’s new bride supports him with her entry level computer job at Intel Corp, while he receives a $500 monthly stipend from the state and donations for learning Talmud.
While Rachmani was born in Miami, he graduated from Maoz Hatorah, a school in Bnei Brak for boys aged 3-15. It teaches some reading and writing in Hebrew and basic arithmetic, but most of the day is devoted to religious studies.
Therein lies a major problem for economic planners. Thanks to their large families, ultra-Orthodox Israelis are forecast to become a third of the population by 2065, up from 11 percent now. But while female employment levels are in line with Israeli society, many of the men lack the skills needed to power a modern, first world economy — if they want to work at all.
Israel’s high-tech sector, which employs 9 percent of workers, is booming. Venture capital investment as a percentage of gross domestic product is the highest in the world, and growth is among the strongest of the developed economies.
But the overall figures mask divisions that, while also affecting less religiously observant and secular Israelis, particularly touch the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities.
Poverty rates are higher than in all other developed countries, and income inequality is second only to the US within the OECD, a club for wealthier nations. Just 20 percent of the population pays 90 percent of income tax.
Bank of Israel Gov. Karnit Flug is worried. “This is an impossible situation. If we want to become a cohesive society, without unacceptable social gaps in levels, we will need to change the situation of a dual economy, which exists today, to that of a single economy,” she said.
“The path to get there passes through inclusive growth,” she told a recent conference, referring to getting all social groups engaged in the workplace.
Economists say Israel must change its priorities by investing in infrastructure, strengthening the education system and integrating the ultra-Orthodox and the Arab population — who make up 21 percent of Israelis — into the workforce.
Failure could eventually threaten the very existence of Israel, according to experts, who say creating wealth is vital for funding strong armed forces in a country that has fought several wars with Arab neighbors since 1948.
Israeli Arabs have low pay and high jobless rates, though for different reasons. “If you want the Arabs to be integrated in the economy, we need more spending,” said Johnny Gal, a researcher at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.
According to the Bank of Israel, 60 percent of Arab men work, many in construction, earning half of what Jewish men make. Just 25 percent of Arab women work, while 55 percent of Israeli Arabs live below the poverty line.

US, UK must support Kurds in Syria: British politicians

Updated 21 April 2018

US, UK must support Kurds in Syria: British politicians

  • Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain silent — British MP
  • The UN estimates 137,000 people left Afrin leaving only about 150,000 in the district. Only the Turkish Red Crescent and Turkish relief organizations can operate there

LONDON: The Kurds of northern Syria face an “exponential threat” from Turkey while Western allies in the fight against Daesh remain “silent,” Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of Parliament for the UK opposition Labor Party, told Arab News.

Speaking after visiting the Kurdish region of northern Syria this month, he said Kurdish communities in the area “feel abandoned” by the West in a “moment of real need.”

“While we were there, a place we’d been the day before was shelled by Turkey, so these things do go on and they do affect day-to-day lives. People seem genuinely very afraid,” he said.

Traveling via Baghdad and Irbil, before being escorted across the Syrian border by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), his delegation, which undertook the visit independently of the Labor Party, witnessed the devastation wreaked by Daesh and Turkish rockets in Kobani and other cities.

The route opened up a few months ago, Russell-Moyle said, creating a “window of opportunity” to “talk to the Kurds about what they were facing” and to “give hope to people that are struggling and are doing an amazing job.” 

Describing the democratic, secular, feminist state being established in the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Syria as “impressive,” he said this is the “best” and “only” example of the kind in Syria and that Britain should be helping to rebuild it in the aftermath of the conflict. 

During a visit to Qamishli, Lord Glasman, a Labour peer who was part of the delegation, said: “We’re here for a long-term relationship with you, where we can support you against all the people who are trying to destroy your liberty.”

In March, the Turkish military overran the north Syrian city of Afrin following a bloody campaign to oust the YPG from the area. Dozens of Kurdish fighters lost their lives, including 26-year-old British national Anna Campbell, who'd been volunteering with the YPJ, the female arm of the YPG.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president, has vowed to expand the offensive to other YPG-held areas, citing security concerns in response to US plans to help Kurdish militias create a 30,000-strong “border security force” to defend the Syrian-Turkish border against Daesh. 

Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it defines as a terrorist organization, following a three-decade battle for Kurdish independence on Turkish soil.

The UK and US, wary of upsetting an important NATO ally, remain reluctant to get involved. A statement released by the US State Department in March said it was “committed to our NATO ally Turkey” with its “legitimate security concerns,” sentiments reiterated by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who insisted: “Turkey has the right to want to keep its borders secure.”

Kurdish forces are “infuriated” by the response, feeling that they have been let down by their allies, commentators said. Kurdish fighters make up the majority of the US-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against Daesh.

Josh Walker, a British YPG fighter who has since returned to the UK, said: “Kurds have been seeing this as another chapter in their long history of betrayal by major powers; they are especially disappointed considering their major contribution to the near-defeat of ISIS, which was only prevented from being total defeat by Turkish intervention.”

Since the assault on Afrin, the YPG has redeployed hundreds of troops from the frontlines against Daesh to defend the city on the other side of Syria. Turkey’s “increasingly belligerent” position toward the Kurds has thrown up “contradictions” for UK and US foreign policy in Syria, said Robert Lowe, deputy director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economic and Political Sciences.

“Their overriding priority is to defeat ISIS (Daesh) and associated groups. That’s been hurt by the Turkish invasion and made their continuing operations to defeat ISIS, or clear out what’s left of them, more difficult because the Kurds have had to move resources.

“The US and the UK are only prepared to go so far in their criticism of Turkey,” he said. “They have urged restraint … but also haven’t been as critical as they might have been.”

Russell-Moyle said the UK needed to be “stepping up, not stepping away.” The recent decision taken by Theresa May, UK prime minister, to engage in US-orchestrated airstrikes targeting the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facilities without parliamentary approval was a “very risky strategy,” he said. 

To bring an end to this conflict “we should be building up societies,” he said, and “supporting a civil population that will never allow it to happen again.”

In Rojava, and the cantons of Kobani, Cizre and Afrin, Kurdish communities have embarked on a political project to form the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, establishing a system of government based on democratic confederalism, ecology and gender equality. Councils set up by local people, have been established, based on equal representation of minority groups in the area.

Elif Gun, from the Kurdistan Students Union in the UK, described a “system of stateless democracy, working from bottom up, with power handed and divided.

“It is the only form of democracy and state that offers real change to the people and gives the power of decision making to the people.”