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Israel 2048: A ticking Haredi time bomb

Colin Shindler
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Published: 23 May 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Haredim make up 13% of Israel's population. By 2048, that number will have almost doubled, an increase that will change the socio-political character of the state. COLIN SHINDLER ask whether Israel can survive its demographic trajectory.

In 1970, Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik published his famous essay, “Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?”

Amalrik was killed in a car crash in Spain in 1980, so didn’t live to see the collapse of the USSR in 1991. His essay, however, has become more prescient in a wider international sense — and with the growth of authoritarianism and the first war in Europe since 1945, all too many have suddenly become aware, and indeed appalled, by the words and actions of “strong leaders” who marginalise the rule of law and denigrate independent thought.

The scales have dropped from the eyes of those who were previously so short-sighted. The lessons of recent history, and in particular Jewish history, have come flooding back. Moreover, Amalrik did not choose Orwell's year, 1984, by chance.

While we wave flags and put out the bunting for Israel's 75th birthday, it is a salient exercise to imagine what the country will look like in 2048 —100 years after the proclamation of a Hebrew republic in the Land of Israel by David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues.

Will the State of Israel survive until 2048?

In December, the Central Bureau of Statistics in Jerusalem estimated that the population of Israel was 9.66 million — this included the population of East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Area C of the West Bank. These are contested areas whose status may change by 2048.

There has been a remarkable increase from the population of 1948 — a mere 806,000, of whom 670,000 were Jews. The prediction for 2048 is that there will be just under 12.5 million Israeli citizens.

Graphic: Luke Featherston
Graphic: Luke Featherston

A considerable number of these citizens — many yet to be born — will be Haredim. In 2023, a quarter of all Israeli schoolchildren are Haredi. Haredim account for 13% of the population. It is estimated that they will consist of just over 30% of the Jewish population by 2050.

A recent analysis by the Israel Democracy Institute characterised the Haredi community as disproportionately poor, subsisting below the poverty line. The unemployment rate for Haredi men is three times that of non-Haredi men. The education level of young Haredim is lamentably low due to the circumventing of the core subjects in the school curriculum. Jerusalem has become one of the poorest locations in Israel.

In recent years, the size of the male Haredi workforce has stagnated while the number of wage earners, their wives, has increased. The number of Haredi young men studying fulltime in yeshivas rose by almost 50% between 2014 and 2021.

The unemployment rate for Haredi men is three times that of non-Haredi men. The education level of young Haredim is lamentably low due to the circumventing of the core subjects in the curriculum. Jerusalem has become one of the poorest locations in Israel.

All this happened under Benjamin Netanyahu's watch because he needs the Haredi parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, to shore up his coalition of 61-plus as much as he needs those who voted for the religious far-Right of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Netanyahu has made little effort to integrate young Haredi men into the army. Given the free-for-all to grant exemptions and the concerted opposition to army service from leading Haredi rabbis, even the small number of Haredi men in the IDF fell from more than 2000 in 2014 to 1200 in 2020.

As the march of young Israelis into the Haredi city of Bnei Brak last month indicated, the huge protests were far more than a matter of “judicial reform”.  Will the State of Israel survive until 2048?

With an average birth-rate of 6.6 children per family, can the Haredi sector sustain itself economically? Will it collapse in on itself? Or will it be the state that will collapse first, weakened by a brain drain of the brightest and the best, tired of the manoeuvrings of Netanyahu and his imitators and the exploitation of accepted norms?

The Jewish Independent

The recent demonstrations on a huge scale by Israelis were also a protest against a future envisaged by Haredim, Kahanists and American libertarians. It was not the Israel imagined by the founders in 1948. The protesters rose up because they did not wish to be pawns on the chessboard in a game of coalition numbers by Netanyahu and his minions.

A clear lesson has emerged from the general strike of March. The people that mattered were the business community, the high-tech entrepreneurs, the workers of the Histadrut (the General Federation of Workers in Israel), the legal profession, the airport workers, the military leaders — and not the catch-all conglomeration, “the Left”, not “the millionaire kibbutzniks”, not the verbose secular intellectuals and not the unworldly academics.

The medievalists and the rabble rousers in their great numbers did not count because they were not in positions of influence in Israeli society. Even the Likud-organised demonstrations of the far Right in support of Netanyahu's attack on the independence of the judiciary were unimportant.

Bizarre and often outrageous utterances may have made headlines in the media, but they could not bring Israel to a shuddering halt. This, in a sense, was a reflection of their diminished place in the Israeli economy and the IDF.

This happened under Benjamin Netanyahu's watch because he needs the Haredi parties to shore up his coalition as much as he needs those who voted for the religious far-Right of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir.

The lesson drawn from this is that the Haredim would have to integrate into Israeli society in a genuine sense sooner rather than later if they wished to exercise real power. Are the times a-changing? Is the strident demand from protesters, “don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall”?

Will the State of Israel survive until 2048? is a question asked by others outside Israel. “Of course not” comes the unequivocal answer from Tehran. A nuclear-equipped Iran, holding increased stocks of enriched uranium and a diminishing breakout time, is infinitely more dangerous today than when Barack Obama's agreement with the ayatollahs held.

A divided Israel, caused by Netanyahu’s obsession to repress the judges, muzzle the press and constrict academic freedom, will not have escaped the attention of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran nor the Islamists of Hamas, who will seize upon any opportunity.

No Palestinian will celebrate 75 years of momentous advance by the State of the Jews. Many, however, realise that it will be little more than wishful thinking to suggest that Israel will not survive until 2048. However, with a moribund Palestinian Authority and no possibility of a peace initiative under Netanyahu, the frustrations will be deeper and its young people more desperate.

In the Diaspora, most Jews relate emotionally to a Jewish state — often as a reaction to antisemitism — but many are mystified by recent developments in Israel. Still, the argument that there is only one Jewish state and “we have no other homeland” remains the cri de coeur of many a Diaspora Jew.

Israel's development since 1948 coincided with the onset of a period of global decolonisation, the end of empire. Many young non-Jews on the Left, oblivious of the raison d'etre for the founding of Israel 75 years ago and perplexed by the unique nature of Zionism, view the continuing Jewish settlement of the West Bank as the last bastion of colonialist endeavour.

Unless a far-sighted leader emerges, it is unlikely that this mindset will change between 2023 and 2048. In addition, if the situation continues, the number of Israel's friends among US Democrats will continue to diminish.

By extension, it is likely that the megaphone war as to who is responsible for the ongoing Israel-Palestine imbroglio will continue. It is bolstered by an industry that telescopes informatzia (information) with hasbara (explanation) with ta'amula (propaganda) — a cocktail made more potent with the advent of a toxic social media.

This is symbolised by the differing interpretations of 1948 — from narrow academics to point-scoring propagandists. While Israeli Jews call the war of 1948, “the War of Independence”, the Palestinian Arabs term it “the Nakba” (the Catastrophe).

Some believe that the exodus of the Palestinian Arabs was part of a long-time Zionist plot — a conspiracy theory that can tip over in 2023 into anti-Jewish canards. Historian Benny Morris disagrees. In his view, the Palestinian refugee problem was “born of war, not by design, Jew or Arab”.  

Will the State of Israel survive until 2048? Yes. The accompanying question, 'What sort of Israel will it be?' is one many Diaspora Jews shy away from.

For those Jews who regard Zionism as different and not wrong, there is an ongoing vigilance to ensure that the opportunity in 1948 to change Jewish history is not thrown to the winds.

The ceremony that declared independence in May 1948 took just 32 minutes. Moshe Sharett, Israel's first foreign secretary, later wrote that his apparent calmness then belied a deep fear “as if we were standing on a cliff with a gale blowing around ... with nothing to hold onto except the determination not to be blown over into the raging sea below”. That sense of trepidation — no matter how deep-seated — continues 75 years later.  

So, will the State of Israel survive until 2048? The response of this writer is a resounding “yes”. The accompanying question, “What sort of Israel will it be?” is one many Diaspora Jews shy away from.

As the recent mass protests in Israel demonstrated, the values and foresight exhibited by the founders — David Ben-Gurion and Vladimir Jabotinsky, Yitzhak Tabenkin and Moshe Sharett, Abba Hillel Silver and Yehuda Leib Maimon — will not be put out to pasture so easily.

Diaspora Jews need to play their part in forging the Israeli future and not wait until difficult events, fuelled by unprincipled politicians, overtake them.

Information graphics: Luke Featherston

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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