If there's one thing for which it is truly difficult to forgive Education Minister Limor Livnat, it's that every new move she makes as the head of the country's education system increases the nostalgia for the representatives of the National Religious Party, who ran the ministry during the periods of previous Likud governments. They, at least, had a clear conception of the state-Zionist approach, and it was obvious that groups who educated children for a life that included army service and work would get a lot more funding that those who educated children for draft evasion and general ignorance.
Livnat dispenses the state resources at her disposal according to criteria of narrow political interests. She is opening the budgetary floodgates to the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector and is at the same time mortgaging the future of the state. On both the secular left and in the Haredi parties, there is a consensus that Livnat is trying to buy her way to the prime ministership via the Haredim and is paying them off in the coin of the budgets allocated for the state and state-religious education tracks.
What Livnat is doing is particularly serious because she is not giving the Haredim special allocations but is making available state funding to them, such as the budget of the Education and Welfare Services unit and funding that was originally set aside for the long school day.
Every crack that Livnat is now opening will in the future become a huge budget window. Thus, for example, as things stand now, only a few dozen Haredi schools can benefit from the minister's decision to equalize the status of Haredi education in the allocations for a long school day. In the future, however, the entire Haredi education system will be able to embark on the road that Livnat is carving out, at a cost to the state of hundreds of millions of shekels.
Haredi education, in fact, already has a long school day, which is funded in part, by indirect means, by the state. What, exactly, will the Haredim do with the new funding that Livnat is making available to them? Most likely, they will do what they usually do: they will utilize the funds to expand their educational institutions, to induce more secular and traditional children to become penitents - and then will ask for more funding for them, too.
Livnat has done more than integrate the Haredim into the funding for a long school day.
She has also promised, according to her deputy, MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism), to make available to them funds that are earmarked for day boarding schools - which are the secular answer to the long school day that exists in the Haredi education system.
Before she became education minister, Livnat had the image of a feminist politician who was a spokesperson for women's causes. That image now has to be reassessed. The funds she is injecting into the Haredi networks are funds that support the suppression of women and other forms of discrimination, and they will help send hundreds if not thousands of girls to a life of ignorance and poverty, a life in which family planning is out of the question.
Livnat has set her sights on becoming prime minister, but the highest position a woman can hold in the parties with which she is cooperating so ardently is that of secretary.
What is even more worrisome than the facts that have been exposed so far, is that they in themselves are not enough to account for the tremendous satisfaction the Haredim feel about Livnat.
The question, then is, what it is that we don't know. Here is one question that has yet to be answered: Only a year ago almost none of the schools of the Shas education network had a license , mainly because they did not meet safety standards. Suddenly, though, total silence has descended on the Shas education network front, on the part of all who are involved in the matter. Is it the case that the Shas schools now meet the criteria, or is it, rather, that the political circumstances have made the criteria more flexible?
Livnat cites equality for all Israeli children in justification of the funds she is pumping to the Haredim, as though for years Haredi education had been subjected to discrimination and she, the white knight of egalitarianism, had come to right this wrong. In practice, a commission that was appointed at the demand of former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri found comprehensive, systematic discrimination against the state education tracks, as compared with the two Haredi networks (Sephardi and Ashkenazi).
Livnat is relentlessly widening this disparity. Her two deputies, Ravitz and Meshulam Nahari (Shas), are acting in the capacity of kashrut supervisors and reporting to their constituencies that they have a glatt kosher minister.
Livnat also swears over and over by the budget law, which stipulates that the Haredi education networks must be budgeted equally with those of the state-run tracks. For some reason, though, she is devoting less attention to the compulsory education law, which states that the Education Ministry is barred from recognizing a Haredi institution that does not teach the basic curriculum of the education system - meaning 75 percent "general studies."
One of the most incomprehensible things about Livnat's policy is her disregard of the fact that by creating new pupils for Haredi education, she is also creating new voters for Haredi parties, at the expense of the Zionist parties.
Maybe it's too much to expect of her to place the good of the state before her personal ambitions, but it's a bit strange that she is ready to sell even the future of the Likud for a mess of political pottage.
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