Since the beginning of the school year, the Catholic schools in Israel have been on strike. Their reason is very simple – they are protesting the severe budget cuts that took place two years ago and continue today. Two hundred million shekels were taken away in the last two years not due to an overhaul in the Ministry of Education to find ways to make due with less money, but the political war of the former Education Minister, Shai Piron, against the Hardei school system.
In an attempt by the former Minister of Education to have Haredi schools adopt its core curriculum of math, English and civics, Piron threatened their state subsidies. In doing this, he created a category entitled “unofficial schools,” which allowed him to exercise his right to grant state funding. Since Catholic schools are not part of the mainstream public school system, they were also lumped into the “unofficial schools” category.
Up until two years ago, Christian schools in Israel received 65% of their budgets from the state, with parents paying the remaining balance. However, Hardei schools received 100% funding from the state. Now the Ministry of Education only subsidizes 34% of Catholic school system for 33,000 students in 47 schools. Even if the parents had the money, which many do not have, they cannot pay the tuition difference since it is capped by state law.
One would imagine that the new government would have been able to work out a deal to return the money and continue funding the Catholic schools like it did prior to the 2013 reforms. Unfortunately, it did not. In fact, the Ministry of Education is threatening not to renew school licenses for Catholic schools in the North.
No one expects the Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, who is in charge of the “unofficial schools” to be sympathetic to Catholics. His brand of Judaism is not open to Christians. In a fragile government coalition, it seems that no one brave enough to take on the cause for Catholic school system. Why should 33,000 students, citizens of the state, become political collateral damage?
It seems that the only solution, based upon the current political climate, is introducing an “economic arrangements” bill. Will the minister who represents “all of us” be willing to champion their cause? Only time will tell. The Israeli public is highly unlikely to gather at Rabin Square to protest this injustice in our democratic system. Cottage cheese price hikes are more important than people.
We are commanded to “love the resident in the land” since we were once strangers in Egypt. In refining our national character, we needed to understand what it meant to be a minority. The State of Israel is a gift in our lifetime that comes with tremendous responsibility. While I believe Catholic schools should be 100% funded by the State just like the Haredi ones, the least we can do is return the monies taken from them and continue to subsidize 65% of their budget. Our internal political issues should never oppress minority populations. It is time for Israeli Jewish public as well as Christian and Jews from around the world to ask the Israeli government to finally resolve this issue.
David Nekrutman is the Executive Director for the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Israel.