The showdown on Friday came two days after Israel’s attorney general ordered government ministries to end gender segregation in buses, cemeteries, health clinics and radio airwaves, and as Parliament is drafting sweeping legislation to integrate the swelling ultra-Orthodox minority into the army and work force, while cutting back the subsidies their large families rely on. Following decades in which ultra-Orthodox politicians provided critical swing votes in exchange for control over religious institutions, they were shut out of the governing coalition that formed this spring and have become an increasingly shrill part of the opposition.
The demographic concern is that the much higher fertility of the ultra-orthodox population will dramatically shift the nature of Israeli society. And, indeed, one of the group's leaders expressed this as a goal:
But Rabbi Israel Eichler, an ultra-Orthodox member of Parliament, warned that “if the state of Israel fights” the ultra-Orthodox, in Hebrew called Haredim, “it may win, but it will be erased from the face of the Earth.”
“There were thousands of seminary girls there today,” he said. “Each one of them will have 10 children. That is our victory.”
Many years ago, Yasser Arafat called on Palestinian women to defeat Israel through a high birth rate. Now, it seems that the threat is from within, not just from the outside.