The Central Bank of Israel has warned that the religious Jews and Israel's Arab citizens are the only two groups in society which have got poorer under successive Netanyahu governments. Governor Stanley Fischer said in his Annual Report that if the current economic policies continue they will have a serious effect on the state's prosperity. The new government, he said, must take steps to arrest the decline.
Mr Fischer suggested that the government should provide employment opportunities for religious Jews (Haredim) and Arab-Israelis and motivate members of the two socio-economic groups to participate more widely in the labour market. "This," he said, "is an urgent requirement to preserve Israel's national security."
According to the bank's Annual Report, Haredim and Arabs represent Israel's poorest social groups. At a time when the number of people living in poverty across all groups has declined, the ratio has increased in these two sections of society. Among the Haredim, the proportion who are classed as "poor" was 48.1 per cent in 2003, rising steadily to peak at 60.4 per cent in 2006 before falling to 56.7 per cent in 2010. That figure has now reversed the trend and last year, 2012, it climbed back to 58.1 per cent.
Although the figure for the Arab citizens was higher in 2003, at 50.9 per cent, it reached 58 per cent in 2012, just behind the rate for religious Jews.
The poverty rate in Israel is calculated from a base of 2000 shekels ($ 550) per month per capita. According to the Central Bank of Israel, families in the two groups tend to be large and Arab women do not go out to work; the unemployment rate among Arab women is 76 per cent. Religious Jewish men study, they don't work, and they have an unemployment rate of 72 per cent. The bank's report added that a quarter of the families with one worker live below the poverty line and 4.6 per cent of the families in which both the man and the woman work still live below the poverty line.
Jihad Akl, a member of the General Federation of Labour in Israel (Histadrut), commented on these statistics by claiming that there are several objective reasons for this poverty that have to do with social customs and traditions, religious strictness and having large families with no proper planning. However, he added, the most serious causes lie in the government's policy of discrimination and negligence towards the Arabs and religious Jews. In the Arab sector, for example, there are no factories and no places for women to work. "Moreover," he pointed out, "wages received by Arabs are usually around two-thirds of those paid to Jews doing the same jobs." The government also neglects rural areas, which are home to the majority of religious Jews and Arabs, added the union official.