Israel's repeat election shows Strictly Orthodox people pose a 'threat' to its way of life, Michael Oren says

Former Israeli minister and ambassador said his country's concerns had shifted from security to demographics


The major issue for Israelis is the Strictly Orthodox “threat” to their way of life, the country’s former ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said on Thursday.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that whereas physical security had been the major issue for 25 years, there had been a “sea-change” and the country was today “more secure”.

“Now the major issue is not the threat to Israelis’ lives but the threat to their way of life posed by ultra-Orthodox [sic],” he said, using a widely-used term for the Strictly Orthodox people.

Dr Oren, who served as a deputy minister in the last government, was explaining the failure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition, forcing new elections in September.

Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, refused to join the coalition unless Mr Netanyahu agreed to enforce conscription of Charedi yeshiva students into the army.

Dr Oren said that Mr Lieberman had been able to harness fears among Israelis of religious coercion and of the growing influence of Charedi political parties.

The exemption from military service of many Charedi yeshiva students had created “growing inequality” between those who served in the military and those who did not.

The nature of the state was “in the balance”, he said.

“Some of the estimates show that in 20 to 25 years from now it could be as much as 50 per cent of all the children in grammar school here [in Israel] will be ultra-Orthodox.

“And the ultra-Orthodox do not provide their children with a basic Western mathematical, English education. They don’t prepare them for a productive role in society.”

Israel would be unable to survive economically in “a situation like that”.

Whereas the existential issue had been whether Israel could survive wars and terror, he said, now it was whether it could survive as a Jewish state that “was not Jewish in the religious sense”.

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