Outgoing Bank of Israel chairman Stanley Fischer has gotten a lot of flak for recent statements of his that Israel faces a bleak economic future if something is not done to recruit large numbers of hareidi Jews and Israeli Arabs into the workforce. In a conversation with Arutz Sheva, geostrategic expert and Haifa University Professor Arnon Sofer said that he was on Fischer's side.
“I am tired of hearing about how these comments are 'racist,” Arnon said. “Fischer is telling the truth. Hareidi and Arab families have a lot of children, and they are endangering the Israeli economy.”
Sofer said that he had published a book in 2011 that, using demographic analysis methods, indicated that religious Jews and Arabs would constitute the majority of Israel's population by 2030. Of the religious Jews, the majority will be members of the hareidi sector, and with employment rates among hareidi Jews very low – less than half of hareidi Jews are employed full-time (the percentage is similar among Israeli Arabs) – there won't be enough people to fill the jobs that are available. Instead, the state will end up supporting these people.
In a recent speech, Fischer laid out the scenario with specific figures: Among hareidi Jews, 60% of men do not work, and among Arabs, 80% of women do not work. Most of those in both sectors who do work generally are employed at jobs that are low-paying and require low levels of skills. Already, he said, the all-around employment rate for Israel – the percentage of all adults in the workforce - is lower than in almost any other OECD country, and that percentage will go down as the hareidi and Arab populations grow, unless something is done to change the situation.
The only solution, said Sofer, was to aggressively promote higher education among both groups. “Even the hareidi leadership realizes they cannot continue to wall themselves in and hide in the yeshivas. They are learning from their counterparts in the U.S., many of whom work on Wall Street and in high-tech. In the U.S., hareidi Jews understand that if they do not work they do not eat. That they are protesting the steps the government here is taking to encourage Israeli hareidim to act in the same way is hypocrisy.”
Among Israeli Arabs, encouraging education will have the added benefit of stemming the community's birthrate. It's a well-known principle of economics that as a community's education level rises, the birth rate goes down. In addition, he said, “they will have richer, better lives, and more of an incentive to keep Israel strong.”