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The Business of Running a Country


The Business of Running a Country

Is the dream of Israel waking up to a new reality where the religion that once claimed the land may also be the downfall of the modern Israeli state? In this article, Steven Koltai explores the current issues facing Israel.

Israel will be 75 in May. I would never have thought Israel would look like it does now, at the time of this milestone birthday. The controversy over the Netanyahu Government’s “Judicial Reform,” is widely agreed to be one of the greatest challenges to the survival of a democratic AND Jewish Israel in its history. While many assumed the greatest threat to Israel would come from the 450 million Arabs in and around the country, in fact, it seems to be coming from Israeli Jews. Who’d a thunk it?

Quite rightly, this issue has become front page news all over the world. What is often hidden, however, is one of the underlying issues of the controversy: the growing imbalance in political power between the “religious” (Haredi) and “secular” segments of Jewish Israelis. As is often the case, demographics go a long way to explain the issue. From the time of modern Israel’s founding by largely secular, left-leaning European Jews (creators of the now almost extinct kibbutz movement) to the present, the country has experienced a seismic demographic shift. The Haredi population of Israel is growing twice as fast as the secular population (1) such that by 2050, Haredim will comprise 1/3 of Israel’s Jewish population. Israel’s population itself is booming, currently at 9.7 million, projected in 2015 to be about 16 million (the approximate size – and density – of The Netherlands today) (2). This population shift has huge implications, only the first of which is being felt now in the Judicial Reform battle. To add some color to the implications of this shift; consider the following few indicators:

Secular Israelis pay 6 times more in taxes than Haredim, amounting to 98% of total Israeli tax revenues. And while Haredim pay just 2% of total taxes, 26% of Haredi households are primarily supported by government payments. 51% of Haredim live below the Israeli poverty line with 60% of Haredim classified as “poor.” (4)

Haredim are not only substantially poorer, but they are less healthy, and have far lower levels of education than non-Haredi Jews and in some categories, lower than non-Jewish Israelis (Arab Israelis are approximately 20% of Israel’s population). 


Key points include:

  • The Judicial Reform battle
  • A growing population
  • A seismic demographic shift


Read the full article, Oh, Israel…, on Substack.