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.


US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

Updated 19 October 2018
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US downgrades Palestinian mission, places it under embassy in Israel

  • The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership
  • Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel

WASHINGTON: The United States downgraded its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians on Thursday, placing it under the authority of the US embassy to Israel.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the consulate general, a separate office which handled dealings with the Palestinians, would be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the controversial new US embassy in Jerusalem.
The move will make the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is reviled by Palestinians over his support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the main interlocutor with the Palestinian leadership.
The change, quickly condemned by the Palestinians, follows a series of setbacks for them at the hands of President Donald Trump, who has turned US policy sharply toward Israel.
Pro-Israel advocates hailed the decision, saying it confirmed the US recognized the whole of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. It does not signal a change of US policy,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He said the United States “continues to take no position” on how any peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would take shape.
The Palestinian leadership rejected Pompeo’s “efficiency” explanation.
The decision has “a lot to do with pleasing an ideological US team that is willing to disband the foundations of American foreign policy, and of the international system, in order to reward Israeli violations and crimes,” the Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
“The Trump administration is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he added.
International powers have for decades maintained separate and autonomous representations to Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of supporting the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.
They have insisted that the status of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians see as their capital, should be negotiated between the parties as part of any end deal.
Last December, Trump reversed longstanding US policy and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, prompting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to boycott his administration.
The embassy was officially transferred on May 14.
Since then, the Trump administration has forced the Palestinians to shutter their Washington mission and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, in a bid to force them to the negotiating table.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, alongside Friedman and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, has been working for months on a still-secret peace proposal, which Palestinians fear will be overly one-sided toward Israel.
The move Thursday nearly closes off all direct diplomatic contacts between the United States and the Palestinians, analysts said.
Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the US would be the only major power without a separate, independent representative office for the Palestinians.
“Other countries have gone to great lengths to avoid having the same representatives to Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told AFP.
Robert Danin, a former senior US government official dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issues, said the move was a victory for “hard right partisans” who have sought to eliminate the Palestinian-focused consulate general “for decades.”
The consulate general “is THE eyes and ears into Palestinian politics and society. Its independence from US Embassy Israel provided Washington w/solid, unvarnished reporting and analysis,” he said on Twitter.
But Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor with the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum and advocate for the embassy move, said the decision was more evidence the US considered Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel.
“This step confirms that the US recognizes the entire city as Israel’s capital,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended the move, saying the new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside the embassy would maintain contacts with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem at the same level as before the change.
“We value our relationship with the Palestinian people. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with them and, we hope in future, with the Palestinian leadership,” she said via Twitter.