'Haredi community a threat to Israel's democracy'

Influential think tank head warns that haredi community threatening Israel's democracy, urges public to ward off haredi 'extortion'.

Tzvi Lev ,

Haredi man passes Arab woman near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem
Haredi man passes Arab woman near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem

Former Kadima MK Yochanan Plesner, who now heads the influential Israel Democracy Institute, warned that the demographic growth of the haredi community is a threat to Israel's democracy due to what he claims is the community's lack of respect for liberal norms.

"In Israel's population, the community with the lowest level of identification with democratic values is the haredi population," Plesner alleged at a Jerusalem conference on Thursday. "As haredim become a significant component of Israeli society, they become a tremendous challenge to the strength and prosperity of democracy in the State of Israel," Plesner added.

Plesner said that Israel's current electoral makeup hands the haredi Shas and UTJ factions tremendous political power. "If you give them what they care about in areas that interest them, they let you have the rest and everyone in politics learns this very quickly," said Plesner, and blamed the public for not "making sure that politicians pay a price for this".

According to Plesner, the current system needs deep and fundamental reform.

"The electoral system must be changed in order to reduce the spirit of blackmail of the sectarian parties, and also to give a strong impetus to the political system that will create two blocs instead of dividing us into factions," he said.

Plesner himself has had extensive experience with the haredi parties due to his role as head of 2013's Plesner Committee, which attempted formulate a law that would force haredi men to draft to the IDF while still enabling them to continue studying Torah. The committee was disbanded after it became clear that is was unable to agree on the most basic issues regarding the haredi community and the IDF draft.

The rapid growth the haredi community has been experiencing has caused many Israelis to examine the role that the community will play in Israel's future. The haredi community makes up 12% of Israel's population and a 2016 report found that Israel’s haredi population is likely to surge past the country’s Arab population by mid-century – and become the single largest religious group among Israeli Jews.