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
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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.


Rouhani warns Trump of ‘mother of all wars’ as US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s regime

Updated 28 min 5 sec ago
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Rouhani warns Trump of ‘mother of all wars’ as US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s regime

  • Rouhani warned Trump on Sunday: “Do not play with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it”
  • Trump suggested Iranian leaders are “going to call me and say ‘let’s make a deal’” but Iran rejected talks

DUBAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday cautioned US President Donald Trump about pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, saying “America should know ... war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” but he did not rule out peace between the two countries, either.
Iran faces increased US pressure and looming sanctions after Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.
Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” the state-news agency IRNA reported.
“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries which have been at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to reported efforts by Washington to destabilize Iran’s Islamic government.
In Washington, US officials familiar with the matter told Reuters that the Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups.

More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with US President Donald Trump’s push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions.

The drive has intensified since Trump withdrew on May 8 from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The White House declined comment on the campaign. The State Department also declined to comment on the campaign specifically, including on Pompeo’s role.

A review of the State Department’s Farsi-language Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website — which describes itself as a platform to spark debate on democracy and other issues — shows a number of posts critical of Tehran over the last month.

Iran is the subject of four of the top five items on the website’s “Countering Violent Extremism” section. They include headlines such as “This Iranian airline helps spread violence and terror.”

In social media posts and speeches, Pompeo himself also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience.

On June 21, Pompeo tweeted out graphics headlined: “Protests in Iran are growing,” “Iranian people deserve respect for their human rights,” and “Iran’s revolutionary guard gets rich while Iranian families struggle.” The tweets were translated into Farsi and posted on the ShareAmerica website.

Rouhani scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway.
“Anyone who understands the rudiments of politics doesn’t say ‘we will stop Iran’s oil exports’...we have been the guarantor of the regional waterway’s security throughout history,” Rouhani said, cited by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday backed Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran may block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted.
Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.
Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for any hostile US action. Separately, a top Iranian military commander warned that the Trump government might be preparing to invade Iran.
“The enemy’s behavior is unpredictable,” military chief of staff General Mohammad Baqeri said, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
“Although the current American government does not seem to speak of a military threat, according to precise information it has been trying to persuade the US military to launch a military invasion (of Iran),” Baqeri said.
Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of new US sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere.
Washington initially planned to totally shut Iran out of global oil markets after Trump abandoned the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions, demanding all other countries to stop buying its crude by November.
But it has somewhat eased its stance since, saying that it may grant sanction waivers to some allies that are particularly reliant on Iranian supplies.