Monday, June 8, 2015

Rivlin urges “wake up” to challenge of Israeli society’s changing face


Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin used a major address yesterday evening to highlight the demographic changes facing Israeli society and their potential economic and sociological impact.

Speaking at the opening of the Herzliya Conference, a major policy gathering, Rivlin said that, “Israeli society is in need of a wake-up call.” Outlining the country’s changing demographic reality, he said, “Whether we like it or not, the makeup of the ‘stakeholders’ of Israeli society and of the State of Israel is changing before our eyes.”

In essence, said Rivlin, Israeli society is becoming increasingly fragmented and compartmentalised. He explained that in the mind-set of many Israelis, the country remains dominated by a large secular Zionist majority. In reality though, Rivlin noted that, “First-grade classes are composed of about 38 per cent secular Jews, about 15 per cent national-religious, about one-quarter Arabs, and close to a quarter ultra-Orthodox.” He described it as “a ‘new Israeli’ order… there is no longer a clear majority nor clear minority groups.” It is a configuration which Rivlin predicted “will have a profound impact on the way we understand ourselves and our national home.”

Giving two practical consequences of these changes, Rivlin said, “The mathematics is simple … If we do not reduce the current gaps in the rate of participation in the work force and in the salary levels of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations … Israel will not be able to continue to be a developed economy.” He added that “in the emerging Israeli order, more than half of the population does not serve in the military. So the different Israelis will meet for the first time, if at all, only in the work place.”

In addition, explained Rivlin, each sector is “educated toward a totally different outlook regarding the basic values and desired character of the State of Israel.” As a result, Israeli society will need to answer difficult questions to “balance the secular-liberal character of the State of Israel and the Zionist enterprise.”

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