The focus of the second day of the Eighth Annual Administrators’ Forum sponsored by Hamodia’s Hebrew edition continued to be the financial crisis in the chareidi community caused by budget cuts, though speakers also offered strategies for survival.
Former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) let it be known that the chareidi public is not entirely alone in its struggle for fair treatment and a peaceful solution to the issues of the draft and the economy.
“Disputes are not settled by force or the tyranny of the majority through parliamentary coercion,” he said.
Rivlin said that he tries to remind his colleagues that the chareidi sector is no longer a small minority, comprising over ten percent of the total population, and in the early grades almost one out of every two students is chareidi. The veteran Likud MK said that we must work together to find a way to enable each sector of Israeli society, especially chareidim, to preserve their way of life in a state that will not be split into two.
Along those lines, he noted the outstanding contribution made by chareidi representatives in the Health Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee in recent years. Rivlin also recounted several cases he witnessed personally where chareidim wanted to work as lawyers or accountants but found that the doors were closed in their faces.
“This is a trend that repeats itself,” he said. “While on the one hand they are calling on the chareidi sector to go out to work, on the other hand they slam the doors in their faces. The secular public now has a challenge to show it can integrate members of other population sectors and form partnerships based on mutual trust.”
Rabbi Ayal Porat, research director of Hidabroot, penetrated the ongoing demagoguery issuing from the Finance Ministry with a barrage of facts. For example, despite the populist outcry against chareidim raiding the state budget, the fact is that chareidim as a sector receive only 0.025 percent of the overall budget allocations directly.
“In the last elections, Kadima ads proclaimed that avreichim get 3,500 shekels a month, while IDF soldiers are paid only 350. Did anyone bother to check to see if these figures were correct?” he asked rhetorically.
Rabbi Porat decried the economic injustices perpetrated against chareidim, citing bus service as an egregious example. “A billion shekels sounds like a lot of money,” he observed, “but the Egged and Dan bus companies receive 3 billion a year. Their budgets are raised every year, and there is no oversight, and nobody asks any questions.
“Furthermore, after other companies entered the market, fares went down by 50 percent, but the routes serving chareidi travelers are still overcrowded in order to finance the empty buses that serve remote kibbutzim and moshavim. In effect, the chareidi commuter is financing those routes.”
There was some practical advice as well for surviving the crisis. Michael Tabor, chairman of Tabor Finance, informed participants of the existence of low-cost loans to small businesses. The loan service, established by the government in 2012, is made more affordable by eliminating middlemen. Since the loans were first offered, some 4,500 applications have been received, and the banks, he said, are competing with each other for them, lowering their rates in an effort to join the program.
The mayor of Beit Shemesh, Rabbi Moshe Abutbul, had encouraging news about the growth of his city. The roadwork in progress on Highway 38 to Beit Shemesh will change the map of the city and pave the way for its development.
Beit Shemesh is fast becoming the flagship city of the chareidi community, the fifth-largest in the country.