OECD highlights poverty among Arabs and Haredi
By Rabbi Dow Marmur
JERUSALEM (Press Release)–You only have to read The Marker, the business section of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, to be aware of the economic dynamism in the country. Whether it’s the ads for expensive cars or the availability and prices of luxury homes, the reader is soon persuaded that there’s scope for the good life here and that there’re people to enjoy it. Indeed, in many ways, one of the miracles of Israel is its economy. But this doesn’t allow us to be blind to the plight of the part of the population that cannot afford a Lexus or a Cadillac and will never live in a villa in Herzliya.
If any eyes needed to be opened to this reality, the Secretary General of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) did it. In response to Israel’s request to be admitted to this body that both reflects and promotes economic growth in 30 countries and supports others, he told us that in the likelihood of Israel being admitted later this year, it’ll be the poorest member of the club.
The reason is that the majority of two large sectors of Israel’s population continue to live far below the OECD (and the Israeli, for that matter) poverty line: the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs. The former have many children while potential breadwinners engage in their kind of Torah study and expect to be financed by others, including the state. The latter also have more children than others and are deprived of the educational and social infrastructure to be able to play their full part in the country’s economy. They may be better off than their kinsfolk in Arab countries, but lag behind most Israelis.
Judging by the statements of members of the government of Israel, the jolt from the OECD will force it to do something about it. In the case of the ultra-Orthodox, much more pressure may be applied and many more opportunities offered for haredi men to seek gainful employment and get training for it outside their present scope of study. In the case of the Arabs, the government must stop neglecting them and, at the same time, tame its bureaucracy to be more cooperative in dealing with them.
In both cases it’s a matter of will. In the haredi case, the will to accept that they won’t be able to eat unless they work; in the Arab case, it’s the government’s will to treat its more than a million Arab citizens as equals in every sense. Neither is going to be easy without outside intervention. That’s why the OECD report is so important, not only because it’ll allow little Israel to play in the world’s top economic league, but also because it’ll force it to deal favorably with its poor. Thank you OECD!
Israel’s economic success vindicates those who’ve been saying for some time that the role of the Jewish Diaspora must change from philanthropy to partnership. By all means, let Jews abroad continue to support charities in Israel but the joint campaigns that keep a large bureaucracy known as the Jewish Agency is out of date and out of place. Israel and the Diaspora will always need each other, but in matters of Israel’s security and standing in the world and to help secure the allegiance and future of Jews everywhere.
I surmise that Jews in the Diaspora who may read will reject it. That’s what has happened to those who have been saying it for years. For it demands a much greater engagement on the part of Jews everywhere in what’s going on in Israel politically, culturally and economically; it’s much easier to give money and wait for naches and yichus. The OECD reminds us of what we should have known for some time.
Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He now divides his time between Canada and Israel