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Inside Israel: What He Said. What He Meant

Tzippy Yarom

Program to boost chareidi employment runs aground on the rocks of bureaucracy

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

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hat He Said

“I told the lawyer, ‘No problem, I like bananas. They fit very nicely between the bars of a jail cell, so it won’t be hard for me to eat them.’ But then I implemented the directive the way I wanted.” 

What He Meant

Elazar Stern, an MK with the arch-secularist Yesh Atid party, used this colorful imagery at a Knesset Finance Committee meeting, in an anecdote illustrating the importance of leadership. Sometimes, he said, the situation requires one to take the initiative to carry out the correct course of action — and, if need be, to be willing to sit in jail for it.

Stern was dressing down staff members from the Ministry of the Economy for failing to implement an affirmative-action program to boost chareidi employment. The plan would provide a monetary incentive to companies for each chareidi employed. The program ran aground on the usual rocks and reefs of Israeli government bureaucracy.

In 2014 the Economy Ministry, then headed by Naftali Bennett, initiated an effort to incentivize employment for socio-economically disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society, including chareidim. The program would dispense 30 monthly payments to companies for each chareidi they employed. In order to receive the grant, a company had to submit an application and a deposit, and, naturally, prove that the employee was indeed chareidi.

Applications were supposed to be reviewed by a grant committee at the ministry, who would determine if “the employee meets the definition of chareidi, meaning a Jew who observes mitzvos, with a strict form of education, community life, and lifestyle.” Seems pretty cut-and-dry. What could go wrong?

Well, as the members of the Knesset Finance Committee found out, plenty. Companies employing Jews who were obviously chareidi were not being approved for the grant. Economy Ministry official Asher Shetreet explained that he had personally toured those companies and found that the employees in question met the eligibility requirements, beyond any doubt. But when he submitted his findings to the ministry’s grant committee, they told him he had been overruled by the ministry’s legal advisors, who had nixed the applications.

At this, Finance Committee member Elazar Stern had heard enough. He said since the program was obviously intended to boost chareidi employment, the grant committee should have used its discretion to approve the grants.

The question came back: But what if the legal advisors say no? Here, Stern told a story of an incident that occurred when he was the IDF head of manpower. He mandated the issuance of organ-donation cards to IDF enlistees, but was told by IDF counsel that he couldn’t. His response to the army lawyer is the opening quote to the left.

“It’s possible that according to the dry criteria, the grant committee doesn’t have to authorize these incentives,” Stern added, “but if the spirit of the order was to provide greater opportunities for chareidim, the committee must use its own judgment and not heed the legal advisors.”

“You have a good side to you,” remarked Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni, alluding to Stern’s oft-displayed animus toward anything sacred. Gafni then asked the transcriber not to include his comment in the minutes. He seemed to forget that a member of the press was present. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 692)

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