Stanley Fischer
Stanley FischerBank of Israel

Bank of Israel head Stanley Fischer made controversial comments about hareidi-religious Jews during a farewell address at the International Disciplinary Center in Herzliya.

“The economy is facing several challenges, which is basically a nice word for ‘problems,’” Fischer told his audience. “Poverty is a central issue. There is intolerable poverty in the hareidi and Arab sectors. It must be dealt with.”

Hareidi and Arab lifestyles play a large part, he noted, citing low participation in the workforce as an example. However, he said, the state of Israel cannot use that as an excuse, but rather, must encourage adults in those sectors to join the workforce.

Fischer then made a more controversial statement, “Another problem is the demographic problem. The growth rate in the hareidi population is 4.2%, which means the hareidi population will double within 17 years. The Arab population will double within 25 years, while the rest of the population has a 1.7% growth rate, meaning it will double itself in 40 years.”

If the trends continue, he warned, secular Israelis will be in the minority within 50 years.

Polls show that only 20% of Israelis self-define as secular. Fischer was apparently referring to all Israelis who are not religious Muslims or orthodox Jews as secular.

Fischer has made similar statements in the past. In 2010 he warned that hareidi-religious unemployment is not sustainable, and said that the rate of growth in the hareidi sector is “of concern.”

He has expressed support for new initiatives to encourage hareidi-religious and Arab integration in the workforce, but has warned that integration must be done with caution.

Fischer has been named one of the world’s top bankers. He has been credited with steering Israel toward an economic “miracle” of relative prosperity despite the global downturn.