President Reuven Rivlin warned Sunday that predicted changes to Israel’s population makeup could harbinger severe economic and social issues that will threaten the future of the Jewish state and bring about a “new Israeli order.”
Speaking at an annual conference, Rivlin cautioned against the deterioration of Israeli society brought by burgeoning Arab and ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, birthrates, and voiced concern for the future of “Israeliness” — or Israeli identity — that may become subsumed by four separate groups split along “tribal” lines — Arab, ultra-Orthodox, national religious and secular.
“The ‘new Israeli order’ is not an apocalyptic prophecy. It is the reality. A reality that can already be seen in the composition of the first-grade classes in the Israeli education system,” Rivlin told the 15th Herzliya Conference.
“Today, the first-grade classes are composed of about 38 percent secular Jews, about 15% national-religious, about one-quarter Arabs, and close to one-quarter Haredim,” he said, adding that “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.
“A child from Beit El, a child from Rahat, a child from Herzliya and a child from Beitar Illit — not only do they not meet each other, but they are educated toward a totally different outlook regarding the basic values and desired character of the State of Israel,” Rivlin noted, referring to Israeli towns and settlements featuring distinct demographic makeups.
“Will this be a secular, liberal state, Jewish and democratic? Will it be a state based on Jewish religious law? Or a religious democratic state? Will it be a state of all it citizens, of all its national ethnic groups?” he asked.
Since he entered office last summer, Rivlin has sought to be a voice of unity and moderation, often calling for better integration for Israel’s Arab population and decrying racism and bigotry.
He warned Sunday that if little is done to bolster salary levels and employment rates in the Arab and Haredi populations — who are soon to become one-half of the work force — Israel will not be able to continue functioning in its current form or to field a developed economy.
“From an economic standpoint, the current reality is unviable. The mathematics is simple, any child can see it… The severe and painful epidemic of poverty, which is already having a major effect in Israel, will only expand and worsen,” Rivlin warned.
“From a political standpoint, Israeli politics is built to a great extent as an inter-tribal zero-sum game. One tribe, the Arabs, whether or not by its own choice, is not really a partner in the game. The other three, it seems, are absorbed by a struggle for survival, a struggle over budgets and resources for education, housing, or infrastructure, each on behalf of their own sector,” he said.
“In the ‘new Israeli order,’ in which each sector experiences itself as a minority, this dynamic will be infinitely more destructive,” Rivlin added.
The president challenged the four groups to confront the growing “tension, fear and hostility” with which they view one another, and called on Israelis to forge “a new partnership.
“In the past, the Israel Defense Forces served as a central tool for fashioning the Israeli character. In the military, Israeli society would confront itself, would consolidate, and shape itself morally, socially and in many ways economically. However, in the emerging Israeli order, more than half of the population does not serve in the military,” Rivlin said.
“Israelis will meet, for the first time, if at all, only in the work place. In any case, the mutual ignorance and lack of a common language between these four populations, which are becoming ever more similar in size, merely increase the tension, fear, hostility and the competitiveness between them,” he added.
“The ‘new Israeli order’ now requires us to abandon the accepted view of a majority and minorities, and move to a new concept of partnership between the various population sectors in our society,” he continued.
Rivlin outlined a number of suggestions with which to rein in the increasing polarization of Israeli society — that each group cultivate a sense of security toward other groups; that each group assume shared responsibility for the fate of the country; equality and equity between groups; and the creation of a new national identity — or new “Israeliness.
“We are all here to stay — Haredim and secular Jews, Orthodox Jews and Arabs. Now, if we truly want to deal with the significance of the ‘new Israeli order,’ then we must bravely face the issue, and ask ourselves some tough questions,” Rivlin added.
“We must not allow the ‘new Israeli order’ to cajole us into sectarianism and separation. We must not give up on the concept of ‘Israeliness’; we should rather open up its gates and expand its language,” he said.