Israeli demography and politics: The growth of the Ultra-Orthodox

     Rapid growth among the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) sector of Israel’s population has been a two-edged sword for Israel’s right-wing political parties. On one hand, the Haredim’s intensely youthful age structure contributes a larger cohort into the voting-age population with each successive election, yielding an increasingly larger contingent from United Torah Judaism (UJT), a voting list comprised of two Ashkenazi-Haredi parties: Degal HaTorah and Agudat Israel (See a 2013 article, published by FPRI, on the changing demographics of Israeli elections, also available on the FPRI website).

On the other hand, the ever-increasing Haredi voting power and its reflection in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset chafes hard on several of the right-wing and centrist parties (as well as the Knesset’s dwindling Left) and their constituents. Like Avigdor Lieberman’s Party, Yisrael Beitenu (representing immigrants from the former-Soviet Union), these parties are adamant that Haredim young men perform service in Israel’s Defense Force–a duty that is accepted by all other Jewish Israelis (including new immigrants), as well as by many among the Druze and Circassian minorities.

The recent 2019 Knesset election has brought this problem to a head. However, it’s nothing new — “the deal” with the Haredim has been a potential sticking point for right-wing governments for the past decade. Ironically, the Haredim’s sustained high fertility rates guarantee a larger and larger share of right-wing votes, but their presence in government and insistence on special privileges (family subsidies, exemptions from military service, and control of many aspects of Jewish law) has made it increasingly difficult to form a government (see article in Al Monitor by Ben Caspit).