Ultra-Orthodox Jews wield growing influence in Israeli politics

With the ultra-Orthodox community (Haredim) having tripled from 4 to 12 percent of the Israeli population since 1980 and projected to grow to over 20 percent by 2040, the culture war over issues related to the identity of the “Jewish state” will become even more significant as the Haredim aspire to shape public affairs. Peter Lintl, head of a project on “Israel and its regional and global conflicts” based at the Middle East and Africa Research Division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), analyzes these matters in a new report (December). The demographic rise of a group with relatively high birth rates (averaging 7.1 children per woman), that is not a product of Zionism, and that sees itself as the representative of authentic Jewishness gives rise to debates and tensions around the Jewish identity of the state. This development also calls attention to the relationship between the state and religion, the special rights of the Haredim community, and issues of public normativity. But the growing share of Haredim in the Israeli population also raises dilemmas for the ultra-Orthodox themselves around their aspirations to change the state versus their fears of being changed through their involvement in politics and mainstream society. “Some call for isolation, others for integration into the state, and yet others for taking over the state,” Lintl notes. The hesitation between withdrawal and attempts to influence society is also explained by the fact that the Haredim alson need the state in order to safeguard their way of life.

Many secular Israelis see the Haredim as having too much influence and resent them as an economic burden. Except for a strictly anti-Zionist minority, ultra-Orthodox participate in the Israeli democratic system for pragmatic reasons, not wishing to leave it to others to decide their fate and seeking to preserve their world. However, Lintl notes that, especially since the 2010s, the Haredim’s will to shape the religious aspects of the state’s identity has been noticeably growing. During the same period, there has been an increasing identification with the political right. The importance of coalitions in Israeli politics offers them possibilities of influence. Also, changes in part of the ultra-Orthodox population during the past 20 years should not be underestimated. Making up between 8 and 30 percent of the ultra-Orthodox (depending on sources), this “new Haredim” are modernizing and interacting much more with mainstream Israeli life. While more than 50 percent of the new Haredim still stick to the classical model of isolation, two other sub currents lean toward integration, including the promotion of a kind of “Torah conservatism,” on the one hand, and “a resolute politicization of the ultra-Orthodox worldview in the sense of an ultra-Orthodox conception of the state,” on the other. Whatever course is taken, Lintl seems convinced that the country will become more conservative and religious under the influence of the Haredim.

Source: Anna Annouk (https://pixabay.com/de/users/annaanouk-478937/)

(The full report in English can be downloaded in various formats from the SWP website: https://www.swp-berlin.org/10.18449/2020RP14)