'They didn't work, they just had a lot of children'

‘The public paid for them’: Netanyahu says Haredim in past created economic burden

Incoming PM — who is forming a government with ultra-Orthodox parties — made remarks to Jordan Peterson this month, talking about his time as finance minister 2 decades ago

Screen capture from video of Jordan Peterson interviewing prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on December 5, 2022. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Jordan Peterson interviewing prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on December 5, 2022. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set to form a government with ultra-Orthodox parties as his partners, said this month that the community’s high birthrate, low employment rate and reliance on state welfare created a burden that contributed to an economic crisis Israel faced two decades ago.

Netanyahu made his remarks during an interview with Canadian media personality, psychologist and author Jordan Peterson that was published on December 5. The interview flew largely under the radar until Netanyahu tweeted about it on Wednesday, drawing condemnation.

During the interview, Netanyahu covered a range of subjects relating to current affairs in Israel, but also spoke about economic plans he introduced after being appointed finance minister in 2002 under the government of Ariel Sharon.

Netanyahu explained that in 2002, Israel’s economy was in “crisis” for various reasons, including its “lavish welfare system, which encouraged people to live on the dole and not to go out and work.”

He described the situation as a “fat man” — the public sector — riding on the shoulders of a thin man — the private sector.

His plan at the time was “to put the fat man on a diet.”

That included cutting the child allowances that grew bigger with each successive child, he said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, speaks with Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem in 2003.

Bedouin families, where polygamy is permitted, had dozens of children, he said.

The same thing was happening in other sectors, such as the ultra-Orthodox, he continued.

“They didn’t work, they just had a lot of children, which the public sector had to pay for,” he said.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted Wednesday night, “This time I agree with Netanyahu.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is also heading into the opposition and whose Yisrael Beytenu party has championed secular rights, tweeted that Netanyahu is “telling the truth… for a change.”

“But reality has proven time and again that Bibi is a liar and does exactly the opposite,” Liberman said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “He surrendered to blackmail of the ultra-Orthodox… in order to escape his trial — all at the expense of the economic future of the State of Israel.”

Finance Minister, Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu led a bloc of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties to victory in the November 1 election and on Wednesday night informed President Isaac Herzog that he had succeeded in forming a majority government. Media reports about draft coalition deals have indicated the Likud leader has made broad concessions to the other parties in his bloc, with critics claiming Netanyahu wants their support in ending his ongoing corruption trial.

Earlier this month, Channel 12 news reported that Netanyahu had agreed to a string of demands from the ultra-Orthdox United Torah Judaism party, including raising government payouts to yeshiva students and other moves that would impact the balance of religion and state.

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