| 25 May 2024, Saturday |

Israel: ultra-orthodox Jews slam ‘destructive and wicked’ subsidy cut

Israeli Finance Minister, Avigdor Liberman’s plan to cut childcare subsidies, was described as “destructive and wicked”, by members of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community. The comments highlight the deepening rift between the country’s religious Haredi and secular citizens.

Lieberman, the far-right leader of the secular, nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, represents the bloc of Jews who migrated from Russia. He announced the controversial plan last month to reduce day care subsidies for children up to three years old.

The reform of the system means that the monthly 1,000 shekel ($309) childcare payments for ultra-orthodox families will be scrapped unless both parents take jobs. According to Lieberman, the current system is too lenient on ultra-orthodox parents. He hopes that the change will encourage more devoutly religious Jews to enter the workforce.

The change which will end the subsidies for around 18,000 households with fathers who study the Torah full-time was expected to take effect at the start of the new school year next month. However, the plan has caused such an uproar that it will now be delayed until November.

Tabling the bill last month, Lieberman mentioned what he described as “the ongoing distortion in the State of Israel in which the working public has been discriminated against.” The former night club bouncer went on to say that he “will continue to lead moves that will eliminate disincentives to join the labour market and to look out for the public who work, pay taxes, serve in the army and do reserve duty.”

The reform is controversial, not least because 50 per cent of ultra-orthodox Haredi men refuse to work, which means that childcare subsidies are a crucial source of support for their families.

Leaders of the ultra-orthodox Shas party slammed the proposal as “destructive and wicked” and said that it was designed “to hurt families with many children simply because they are Haredi.” It’s feared that the policy will plunge families into poverty and deepen the religious-secular divide within Israel.

Uri Maklev, an ultra-orthodox member of the Knesset, has also condemned the move. He is reported in the Daily Telegraph today denouncing Lieberman’s plan as “inhuman, anti-social and anti-economic decision.”

Maklev is also from the hard-line Shas party. He argued that the subsidy cut would end up punishing families. “The bottom line is that Lieberman is pushing women who are working very hard and who are doing a very good job. He is telling them [that] if they need to go to work they will need to put all of their income in the kindergarten and therefore it is better for them to stay at home.”

The rift between secular and religious Jews in Israel is seen as another growing demographic crisis. Palestinians are also viewed in this light due their higher than average family size. Ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews account for around 12 per cent of the population but the community is projected to grow to at least 32 per cent by 2065.