Haaretz This week, as children returned to school, another public servant, Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Moses, was quoted at a gathering of Haredi school principals saying with satisfaction that this year, for the first time, a majority of children in Israeli kindergartens are either ultra-Orthodox or religious. It was a misleading statistic - Moses was not including Arab children in his calculations and not all the children enrolled in religious kindergartens are actually religious. Many parents place them there for the longer hours or simply because they are closer to their homes and next year they will continue in secular schools. But the Haredi rabbis who privately despise the national-religious for their compromises with modernity are happy to include them in their camp when it pushes secular Israelis into a minority. Today the kindergarten - tomorrow the Knesset.
But despite Malthusian demographic trends indicating a joint Haredi-settler majority in Israel by 2050, both Moses and Levanon are aware how tenuous their advantage could be. None of the current trends are inexorable. As the Haredi community grows, the hold of its ancient leaders over a generation who have grown up in the 21st Century is rapidly eroding and the trickle of defections will increase to a torrent. The growing number of West Bank settlers is also misleading. Three-quarters live in comfortable suburbs by the Green Line, easily absorbed into the sovereign Israeli state as part of a two-state solution which a clear majority of Israelis still support.
The fundamentalists see their majority beckoning on the horizon if only they can hold on for another 20 years, perpetuating the settlement program and shutting off their young from outside influences. It is impossible to foresee whether they will prevail, but we are giving them a much better chance of success by not listening to what they say.