Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bibi: So, where’s the government?

Matt Yglesias posted this question on twitter the other day, I think it deserves a decent answer:

I’ll do the best I can, based on what I’ve read over the past long, long month and what I perceive to be happening post-election. The principal divide as it stands is between Benjamin Netanyahu on the one hand, and Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett on the other over the role of the haredim both in government and in Israeli society more widely. The specific issues which matter to both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home (and also Yisrael Beiteinu) are military service for all, a fairer housing policy, education and the implementation of a core curriculum in all schools, taking the rabbinate out of haredi control, and funding for the yeshivot.

(There is, also, a smaller parting over the role of Tzipi Livni as lead negotiator with the Palestinians, one which upsets both Lapid, who wishes to be Foreign Minister, and Bennett, who wants to wholly annex Area C of the West Bank and has condemned Livni possibly conceding Ariel or dividing Jerusalem in bilateral talks with Abbas and Fayyad.)

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Aliyah and the Revitalisation of Israel

Note: An edited version of this article appears in The Jerusalem Post, entitled "On making aliyah", June 5, 2012

EIN HA’SHOFET, Israel – The State of Israel is hurtling toward pensionable age, having turned 64 this past April, and the numbers of new migrants being absorbed has declined dramatically since the exodus which followed the vanishing of the Soviet Union. But year upon year, thousands of young people continue to make aliyah, in order to take advantage of all a nation with a dynamic economy and cultural scene has to offer: to attend university; to learn Hebrew; to work on a kibbutz; to join the army; to begin life anew.

This may sound like cliché but the statistics show it to be a truism – there is a clear generational bulge amongst new olim, between the ages of 18 and 30, and they journey to Israel from around the world. The newest Ulpan– a five-month intensive Hebrew course – here has just commenced, and its attendees find their origins in the United States, Russia, the Ukraine, Finland, and Hungary amongst others.

Kyle [pseudonym] made aliyah in April of last year from South Africa, aged only 19, following his in brother’s steps. Though Jewish by the Law of Return on his father’s side, he was in fact raised Christian, his father having converted from Judaism some years prior to marriage. His paternal lineage extends back to Europe: to Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. When his brother wished to move to Israel, he was required to prove this heritage by of way photographs of the graves of family members who had perished in the Shoah.

In making the leap, Kyle felt both the pull of Israel and to a certain degree of push out of South Africa. In a nation where 50% of citizens live below the poverty line, “a girl is more likely to be raped than finish [secondary] school”, he noted, citing a report in Time published in March on the issue of ‘corrective rape’.

Almost twenty years since the first universal elections there, South Africa struggles with chronically high unemployment (presently at 23.9%) and a low GDP per capita of only $11,000 per annum, in addition to as Kyle noted systemic problems with crime and governmental corruption. Contrast this with Israel, where the economy is growing at just under 5% a year, unemployment is below 6%, and the GDP per capita stands at $31,000 p/a, and the journey from South Africa to the Promised Land is made to same all the more understandable.

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Monday, April 23, 2012 Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Israel, Considering Life After The Tal Law

Everyone knows the old joke, right? In Israel, a third of the country works, a third pays taxes, and a third does military service. It just so happens that it’s the same third.

The Tal Law — which has been ruled by the Israeli Supreme Court to be unconstitutional — was designed to correct at least part of this societal imbalance. Prior, Haredi men who entered into a yeshiva for religious instruction were exempt from military service. The Tal Law presented a pathway for the ultra-Orthodox to enter into the army. Torah students were permitted to take a year out for work or non-religious study. Following that year, haredim could then make the choice of whether to return to the yeshiva, or join the workforce and serve in the army in accordance with his marital status, or perform national service for a year and a half.

The number of haredim in service did in fact increase, but not to the extent hoped when the law was introduced some ten years ago. According to Israel Defense Forces figures, 1,282 haredi men enlisted in the army in 2011, up from 898 in 2010 and 729 in 2011.Of course, most of them served in special male haredi units, where the kashrut standards are higher and there is no mixing with women.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of young yeshiva student continue to receive exemptions without recourse, a situation widely deemed untenable given that the Haredi community is expected to double its numbers in the next decade. The Supreme Court ruled that “the wholesale exemption of yeshiva students from military service, authorized by the defense minister, did not conform with basic constitutional standards of equality”.

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