The Demographic Rise of the Ultra Orthodox in Israel
The Haredi party, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) – the political voice of the black-clad Ultra Orthodox in the Israeli parliament – currently has six seats in the outgoing Knesset, with the polls indicating a net gain of just one next April. But if the predictions of the Israeli Bureau of Statistics prove anything near correct the party is poised to be a major political player in the years to come.
But if the future is “Black” it’s taking a long time to get there.
The UTJ was formed over 25 years ago in 1992 (an alliance of Degel HaTorah and Agdat). In that quarter of a century the party has never gained more than 7 seats, securing 98,00 votes and just 4 seats in its first outing in 1996. In the last election its 210,00 votes netted just 6 seats.
Politics is set to change. In 2012 the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) released a major demographic study that projected by the year 2059 the children of Haredi families (those 0-19 years of age) currently 15% of children, will actually come close to equaling the total percentage of non-Haredi Jewish children (38% versus 40%) in Israel. The remaining 20% or so of children would be Palestinian.
The fact that the UTJ secures the overwhelming support of the Ashkenazi Ultra Orthodox or Haredi population, and the fact that the Ashkenazi Ultra Orthodox themselves making up to 80% of overall Ultra Orthodox population, implies that the census projections of the rapid growth of the Haredi will transform Israeli politics in the years to come.
Source: Ari et al, ‘Long-range population projections for Israel: 2009-2059’, op. cit., http://www.cbs.gov.il/www/publications/ tec27.pdf.
“Fertility rates in Israel overtook South Africa and Peru in 2000, India in 2006, and Saudi Arabia in 2010”
The rise of the Haredi is of course driven by the exceptional high fertility rates of the Haredi or Ultra Orthodox population, with families of up to 10 children not uncommon.
Israeli fertility rates at 3.1 children per woman are now the highest in the OECD (The OECD average is 1.7).
Fertility rates in Israel overtook South Africa and Peru in 2000, India in 2006, and Saudi Arabia in 2010.
The proportion of young people (under 15 years) in Israel at 28.3% is now the highest in the OECD (OECD average 18.4%) having overtakenTurkey in 2003, Colombia in 2011 and Mexico in 2013.
We have extrapolated the Census projections, year by year, to provide the corresponding figure for non-Haredi, Haredi and Palestinian children for each year up to 2059.
We then identified some demographic milestones for the Israeli state. It should be noted the base projection figures come from the Israeli CBS itself. The CBS figures do not include the Palestinian population of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
In 2016 a quarter of all Jewish children were estimated to be Haredi.
By 2028 – just nine years away – non-Haredi Jewish children as a percentage of all children will have become a minority in the Israeli state.
A year later, in 2029, Haredi children will outnumber Palestinian children.
Another year later, in 2030, one in three Jewish children will be Haredi. In 2032 Haredi children will comprise a quarter of all children in Israel. In 2044, 2 in 5 Jewish children will be Haredi.
The impact will be economic as well as political. A rising Haredi population is a significant factor in the low workforce participation rate in Israel.
Israel today has one of the lowest percentage of adults in the workforce (61.2%) in the OECD (average 66.3%). As workforce participation has generally risen internationally (in many countries, substantially), Israel’s workforce participation has stagnated, and has fallen behind Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Turkey, Colombia, Mexico, Korea, Turkey and Brazil since 1970.
OECD Working Age, Fertility rates, Young Population, Population, https://data.oecd.org/pop/working-age- population.htm#indicator-chart
Without a radical change in Haredi children’s education, which currently undervalues English, mathematics and science, the impact of such demographic changes on the labour force, the knowledge economy and the political direction of the State is likely to be transformative.
The long-term economic challenges or political implications of a Haredi lifestyle or value system for the State are often glossed over, and instead it is the immediate fiscal or taxation cost of state subsidies that arouses most political attention.
There is a widespread political narrative in Israel today that the Haredi are a fiscal drain on the ‘hard-working, middle-class’ Israeli tax-payer. Families with seven, eight or nine, children, the argument goes receive substantial welfare benefits from the state.
This narrative is however not backed up by facts.
Child benefit in Israel, by OECD standards, even taking into account differential GDP per capita, is relatively ungenerous. Standard child benefit in Israel is 150 NIS (€38) per child per month, compared to €105 in the United Kingdom, €140 in Ireland, €145 in Denmark, and €190 in Germany.57 Social spending, as a percentage of GDP (‘cash benefits, direct in-kind provision of goods and services, and tax breaks with social purposes’) is 16.1% in Israel compared to an average of 21% in the OECD. Only three countries rank lower – France 31.5%, Denmark 29% and Germany 24.3% – and 25 rank higher.
Israeli public spending on ‘family benefits – financial support that is exclusively for families and children’ (health and housing not included) is again not particularly generous. Israel has a middle ranking expenditure of 2% of GDP in 2013, compared to the UK 3.8%, France 2.9%, and an average OECD of 2.2%
Israel is also a low-tax economy. Tax on personal income as a percentage of GDP is low by OECD standards – 5.8% versus 8.4% (2014); 25 nations in the OECD have a higher tax take; only nine nations take less (none in western Europe.
Given the current fiscal and social priorities of the Israeli state, the medium-term challenges to the projected rise in the Haredi population aren’t likely to be fiscal, but political.
In the absence of a broad and meaningful alliance between progressive Jews and Palestinians who wish to radically transform, as opposed to overthrow, current broad Zionist consensus that informs Israeli administrations, Israel is likely to drift further to the right. Creeping religiosity of the state seems inevitable.
Demography of course is neither fiscal nor political destiny. Political destiny is shaped by the choices of all Israelis, not just the Haredi – but the laters political views are anything but pluralistic or inclusive.
In a major (EU-funded) study of Israeli political opinion a substantial number of all Israeli Jews continued to favour a ‘Two-State solution’ (47%) over a ‘Single-State’ solution (12%) – the later with equal rights for all. Disturbingly some (15%) favoured institutional and electoral discrimination in a single state with a further (15%) favouring ‘Expulsion of Palestinians’ from the West Bank. (Source Below)
Ominously the same opinion poll found that 31% of the Ultra-Orthodox population favoured ‘Expulsion’ of Palestinians from the West Bank, with a further 18% favouring a single state with institutional discrimination, including denial of the right to vote to citizen-less Palestinians.