A few days ago, A,'s great-great-great grandson was born. A. is 98 years old, a well-known figure in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, and he has around 450 descendants - no one counts for fear of the evil eye. A simple calculation shows that about 20 years separate each generation of his extended family, and each nuclear family has over 10 children on average.
What does this say about Israeli society and its future in the very near term? Even today, 23 percent of first-grade pupils are ultra-Orthodox and 22 percent are Arab. In another 12 years, when they reach voting age, they will together comprise the majority, and the face of the nation will change.
These figures complement the data about the growth in draft-dodging and about the education system, which is incapable of training its graduates for a life of work and productivity. Draft-dodging, which was once a mark of Cain on the brow of any healthy secular man, has in recent years become almost the bon ton. The new heroes of TV show "A Star is Born" are not embarrassed to say that they did not serve in the army.
Some young people explain their evasion of service by their loss of confidence in the leadership, the cases of corruption and the state's abandonment of its soldiers. But there is also an accumulated weariness with the state of war, which has already lasted 60 years, and many young people, along with their parents, are no longer willing to sacrifice their lives on the altar of the settlers' expansionist dreams.
In any case, the decline in motivation to serve in combat units and the steady rise in draft-dodging raise the question of whether the Israel Defense Forces is really still "the people's army." After all, 25 percent of those eligible for the draft never serve at all (11 percent receive exemptions for yeshiva studies, 7 percent for health reasons, 4 percent reside abroad and 3 percent have a criminal record). Of those drafted, 17.5 percent do not complete a full three years of service. The sharpest rise in the number of draft-dodgers is among the ultra-Orthodox. In 1974, they comprised only 2.4 percent of those eligible for the draft. Today, the figure is 11 percent.
Against this background, it is shocking to learn that yesterday the Knesset decided to extend the so-called Tal Law for another five years due to the government's need to keep Shas (a theocratic backed political and fundamentalist orthodox Jewish party) in the coalition. This is a cynical, immoral law that absolves a significant portion of Jewish Israelis from the need to either do army service or work for a living. The fact is that 80 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work; instead, they live on government grants and stipends and the earnings of their wives. After all, why should they risk their lives? Why should they leave their comfortable incubators as long as the secular donkey is there to bear the burden for them?
The secular donkey does not merely bear the military and economic burden; it also continues to expand the scope of government support for ultra-Orthodox education, including even the most extremist strains. About two months ago, the Knesset, by a large majority, approved the so-called Nahari Law, which compels the municipalities to grant equal funding to ultra-Orthodox schools that are not part of the official education system. These are extremist institutions, which do not even recognize the education systems run by Shas and United Torah Judaism and are unwilling even to hear about the Education Ministry's "core curriculum." They do not teach mathematics, English, nature, science, civics, geography or history. In other words, they deliberately fail to train their graduates for a life of work and productivity. So these graduates have no choice but to cling to the coattails of ultra-Orthodox activists.
And where will the new funding for these extremist schools come from? From cuts in the state education system, which is already poor and discriminated against.
To this dangerous trend should be added the targeted assassination of the Wisconsin plan that Industry Minister Eli Yishai carried out this week. This welfare-to-work program succeeded in returning thousands of people to the ranks of the employed, but was curtailed because, in Yishai's value system, work is at the bottom of the list.
All this leads to a situation in which only 56 percent of the country's potential workers actually work - the lowest rate of any Western country. And if this rate declines any further, Israel will sooner or later reach a situation in which the taxes of the few who still work will not suffice to support the many who do not.
If these dangerous processes continue and even intensify, Israeli society will move from A.D. Gordon's system of labor to the charitable support system of the pre-state Jewish community, and from "the people's army" to a French style foreign legion. That will bring us to the complete reversal of the Zionist revolution and perhaps even to the end of the Zionist state.
July 19, 2007
Nehemia Shtrasler is a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, where this article first appeared www.haaretz.com
In any case, I diagree. Israel does not have to work! We have the good 'ol US of A, to feed us.