But Ben-David said the government has relied too heavily on a quick fix. With heavy lobbying from ultra-Orthodox parties that often prove crucial in forming government coalitions, Israel has increased welfare payments fivefold since 1970, while the standard of living has doubled, he said.
Nearly a decade ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then finance minister, won praise for slashing welfare payments, including monthly per-child allowances. But last year Netanyahu, in a nod to his right-wing coalition partners, agreed to nearly double some child allowances.
Reasons differ for the non-employment of Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Over the last 30 years, the percentage of working ultra-Orthodox men has decreased because of government programs that subsidize their religious study, experts say.
Such programs are now facing a backlash from Israel’s secular and non-Orthodox citizens. A radio talk-show host recently described ultra-Orthodox Jews as “parasites.” Tel Aviv’s mayor said the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community was “endangering” the economic strength of the “silent majority.”
But defenders of the ultra-Orthodox credit them with preserving Israel’s Jewish identity, saying that without the high birth rates of ultra-Orthodox families, Israel could see an Arab majority in future generations.
The Evangelicals should try this in the US, if they really want to bring their left-wing opponents to heel in a hurry. OTOH, the threat of millions of “religious right fanatics” going on the dole en masse just might make the left think twice before expanding the welfare state.
It’s not good for Israel (the Israeli Arabs are in the same boat, for a different reason) but the possibility for mischief vis-à-vis our secularist masters is endless.