To put it simply: the most charitable people in the history of the world have come to the realization that the welfare state doesn't work … and they're actually doing something about it.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party won re-election. But a new party called Yesh Atid, led by former Israeli TV news anchor Yair Lapid, came in a strong second and forced Netanyahu to bring it into a new coalition government. Yesh Atid's major platform planks called for more economic equality, but not in the way the Occupy Wall Street crowd thinks of that term.
Instead, Lapid and his top lieutenants pointed out what everyone in Israel has known for decades: the fastest growing segment of the Israeli population is the ultra-orthodox "Haredim," who generally do not seek outside employment and have a total exemption from military service that every other Israeli must perform.
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Even as Israel's economy continues to grow and the nation becomes an even bigger player in the tech and pharma sectors, this demographic drag takes a real and psychological toll on the country. This will also be a big challenge for Jacob Frenkel as he is expected to retake the reigns of Israel's central bank.
While Lapid is Yesh Atid's political leader, its heart and soul is a young ultra-orthodox rabbi named Dov Lipman. Lipman provides the religious bona fides when he insists that his fellow Haredim in Israel should participate in the economy by taking even menial jobs if necessary. As a result, welfare payments to the ultra-religious community were recently reduced by the equivalent of several thousand dollars per year.
And the military service exemption is also gone, although all the details have not been worked out on just how to induct thousands of young men into the Israel Defense Forces who may not have the rudimentary skills to serve with any fighting units.
These are hard details to work out, but the message is crystal clear. The Israeli people see that welfare too often encourages those who are on it to find ways to stay on it. And true compassion does not mean endless handouts.
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A funny side story to all of this is that while most Jewish-American voters would probably angrily reject a Republican candidate promising to drastically reduce welfare programs for the unemployed in the United States, that same number of Jewish voters probably would wholeheartedly approve cutting welfare payments to their much more religious counterparts in Israel.