Don't derail the haredi revolution

Haredim in high tech photo: Ariel Yerusalimsky
Haredim in high tech photo: Ariel Yerusalimsky

The universities' objections to continuing the haredi higher education program are ignorant and prejudiced, writes Stuart Hershkowitz.

In recent years a battle has been waged over the integration of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) population in academic institutions, employment, and Israeli society. The haredi sector is predicted to be 30% of Israel's population by 2059. As things stand, if this forecast materializes, it will mean a shake-up of Israeli society, high unemployment, and poverty. It is therefore obvious that the State of Israel must raise the tempo of integration of the haredim into the workforce and, as a precondition for this, into the academic world.

Haredi society is undergoing a long process of change that includes a change of outlook, and recognition of the need to enter the universities and colleges, and, through them, the workforce. Unfortunately, however, there are those who continually fight his process, and whose actions are liable harm it and bring about a retreat from what has already been achieved.

One focus of the battle is the question of the renewal of the five-year plan for integrating haredim in academic institutions. The success of the program now coming to a close is beyond doubt. The statistics indicate a rise of 83% in the number of haredi students. In absolute numbers, there are some 11,000 haredim studying for academic degrees in Israel (2,000 of them in the Jerusalem College of Technology - Lev Academic Center, of which the present writer is vice-president).

Despite this success, some of the universities in Israel are opposing continuation of the program, and are even demanding that the separate campuses for haredim, where most of the haredi students currently study, should be closed, on the grounds that they involve discrimination against women.

In addition, baseless claims are raised of low academic standards on the separate campuses, censored courses of study, and that their graduates find it difficult to integrate in normal places of work.

The position papers submitted by the universities to the Council for Higher Education reveal ignorance, and even arrogance and discrimination. As one who has worked for over a decade in the integration of haredim in academic institutions and in the labor market, I was left astonished by the supercilious statements that appear in the various submissions, that lead to the conclusion that the universities' declarations of their desire to integrate haredim are no more than lip service. In practice, in the way that the objectors present matters to the Council for Higher Education, they seek to bury what has been achieved and to halt the revolution taking place. Their statements reveal an attitude to the haredi community that is condescending and paternalistic, tainted with prejudice. Some of the submissions border on actual racism, in referring to the haredi community as a "cult", and in using derogatory terms such as "the haredi flock".

Other statements indicate that the opponents are unfamiliar with haredi society and with today's reality in it. The argument that closure of the separate campuses will force the haredim to integrate in the regular campuses is mistaken and misleading. 71% of the haredi students currently study in separate frameworks, and the assessment is that for 65% of them this is an indispensable condition for their presence in an academic institution. Adopting the opponents' position on the separate campuses would in practice lead to most of the haredim being ejected from higher learning, and to their withdrawal from general society, preventing their further integration.

The claim of exclusion of women from the separate campuses is the opposite of the truth. If the empowerment of women is really the priority of the opponents of the program, they should be the first to welcome the activity of the separate campuses, because they have made possible a revolution among haredi women. Our two women's campuses produce hundreds of female haredi graduates annually, and these are women who in the past took no part in higher learning or in the workforce, but who are now finding their places in the most prestigious and best paying professions, such as engineering, computer science, accounting, and so on.

As for the allegations of low academic standards and censored studies, the reality on the ground proves just the opposite. For example, in the latest qualifying examinations in accountancy, our students, one third of whom are haredim, were ranked first and second in the country, while the candidates from the women's campus achieved 100% success, overtaking the objecting universities. As far as difficulty in integrating into normal workplaces is concerned, a look at the employees of companies like Intel, many of whom are haredi graduates of ours, is enough to refute this claim completely.

It seems that at the heart of the opposition is the insistence of the universities on shutting themselves up in their ivory tower, denying the diversity and complexity of Israeli society, and refusing to invest the resources required in order to absorb those with special characteristics, such as the haredim. This obstinacy is liable to lead to the result that only a handful of representatives of the excluded groups will reach higher education, and to the door being shut on many haredi students. That will be a long-term disaster for Israeli society as a whole.

Adv. Stuart Zvi Hershkowitz is vice president of the Jerusalem College of Technology Lev Academic Center.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on October 10, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

Haredim in high tech photo: Ariel Yerusalimsky
Haredim in high tech photo: Ariel Yerusalimsky
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