I was recently discussing Israel’s situation (matsav) with a friend, another Israeli. As real Israelis, we obviously know the solution for every problem our country faces… But joking aside, my friend enlightened me with a shrewd description of the five social classes of citizens in Israel. I will share it here.
In every democracy, citizens have rights and obligations. Typical rights include the right to vote, the right to security, the right to free speech, the right to certain benefits (social security, healthcare), etc. Typical obligations include the obligation to pay taxes, the obligation to obey laws, and, in Israel, the obligation to serve some time in the military or, for some, national service.
Using this right/obligations perspective, Israel’s society can be divided into five classes.
At the very bottom are the Palestinians residing in the Occupied Territories (West Bank and Gaza). They have almost zero rights, because they are not citizens. They can’t vote, they can’t move around freely, etc. On the other hand, they also have very little obligations, as they don’t pay taxes to Israel. The only real obligation they have is to refrain from what Israel sees as disorderly conduct, or from outright violence against Israelis, as the result is typically death or injury.
Second from the bottom are the Palestinians residing in Israel, who are citizens. They have the right to vote. But in many respects they are second-class citizens, especially when it comes to benefits such as education, infrastructure, access to jobs, etc. Traditionally, Arab towns and villages get a small piece of the budget pie when compared with Jewish ones. On the other hand, they also “enjoy” less law enforcement, as in practice the authorities prefer to turn a blind eye to things such as tax evasion or building permit infringements in the Arab sector. Significantly, they are also exempt (indeed, banned) from serving in the military, a huge benefit on the obligations side.
In the middle class are the vast majority of Israelis, the mostly secular middle class. They are the true citizens of Israeli in the sense that the law is applicable to them with no exceptions. They get everything the State gives, no more no less, and they need to fulfill their obligations to the State, no more no less. They don’t have any special benefits, such as tax breaks or the option to perform national service instead of military service.
Second from the top is the National Religious sector. Just like the secular Israelis, they enjoy every right the State provides to its citizens and they must fulfill all their obligations. However, they enjoy additional exclusive benefits, such as the option for a shorter military service (hesder) for men and, for women, to avoid military service altogether. For those of them residing in the West Bank settlements, they also enjoy exclusive tax breaks and additional budgets (housing benefits, for example), which most Israelis do not enjoy.
Now we come to the upper stratum of Israeli society, the uber class. These are the Ultra Orthodox Jews, the charedim. They enjoy all the rights and benefits. In addition, they are exempt from military service (both men and women). They also get special social security allowances for studying instead of going to the army. They also have a separate education system, and because that system does not teach them basic stuff like English and Mathematics, they mostly don’t work or work in low-paying jobs. Hence, their tax contributions are negligible. The law authorities have little or no foothold in this closed society. In short, they have all the rights, plus additional exclusive benefits, but little or no obligations.
There you have it, Israel’s five classes. Which class would you want to be born into?