Integrating Haredi Population into Israel’s Public Sector / NRG
Published on September 15th, 2014 / Ohad Shpak
Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Economy and the Minister of Religious Services, has been energetically promoting his plan to integrate the Haredi population into the labor market. The Minister believes that long-term plans for the absorption of Haredi Jews in civil service should be adopted but argues that this should be anchored in law. Indeed, as early as May, the Israeli government decided that a law of this kind should be drawn up and the project assigned for execution by the Prime Minister’s Office.
As is well known, integrating the Haredi population into the Israeli labor market is a critical issue – both economically and nationally. If we relate only to the central age group of the labor market (ages 25-64), the Haredi population is expected to constitute more than 11% of the Israeli population in 2020 and even 17% in 2030.
Minister Naftali Bennett’s plans are not new. In the last ten years, the government has encouraged Haredi participation involvement in the labor market, and an active work policy infrastructure has been deployed, through government encouragement to employ Haredi Jews and establish centers for employment development and encouragement. Against the backdrop of this government policy, a noticeable increase in the integration trend of the Haredi sector in academia is observed: In 2014, for example, 7,254 Haredi students studied in Haredi colleges and universities – an increase of 630% compared to 2003, when the number of Haredi students was only 1,150.
However, despite the expansion of integration into the academic world, there is no similar change in the relative participation of Haredi men and women in public service, as might be anticipated. The low presence – if at all – of the Haredi sector in state institutions over the years was due to the lack of formal education required. Therefore, following the opening of the gates of academia to the Haredi population, the doors of the civil service were supposed to open as well, but in practice this has not yet happened.
There are several reasons for this: The Haredi Jews do not believe that the public system is willing to accept them; they have no in-depth knowledge of the public system or how to submit tenders; the Haredi society holds a sectorial view less connected to national ideals and often does not fully understand the importance of dedicated public servants operating from a sense of mission; artificial barriers in state tenders exist in the form of a demand for academic degrees also for jobs where there is no real need for an academic degree to fulfill them successfully.
Much has been said on the importance of integrating the Haredi population into the Israeli labor market. Some estimate that the loss to the country’s annual product due to non-employment of Haredi Jews stands at about NIS 9 billion to NIS 10 billion. At the same time, great importance is placed on integrating the Haredi population into the public sector, as this might have a long-term effect on macro processes in Israeli society as a whole, and on Haredi society in particular. The report of the Committee for Socio-Economic Change (the Trajtenberg Committee) stated that “the existence of a quality public sector, functioning efficiently and fairly, is a necessary condition for prosperity and social and economic development.” Encouraging Haredi contribution to the society should also be through employment in state institutions.
We can change the situation. For example, we can provide corrective preference to the Haredi population through legislation, as done in the past for the Arab population or for people with disabilities, for example. The creation of standards intended for the Haredi sector, or financial incentive to departments or wings of the civil service to absorb Haredim, will help overcome the obstacles the latter face, and further reduce the Haredi’s sense of estrangement and alienation in the face of government institutions.
In addition, to overcome the Haredi public’s lack of awareness of the availability of public service positions, and the lack of confidence in their ability to be accepted into these positions, we must act to make jobs accessible to them through non-profit organizations that train Haredi Jews for employment, or through programs such as “civil service cadets.”
This view is based on a paper submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office by the Forum for Promoting Relations between Haredi Jews and Secular Jews.