The Education Ministry is reconsidering its recent decision to give job priority to Arab candidates who have volunteered for national service, Haaretz has learned. The ministry is now likely to rescind that initiative or at least drastically reduce its effects.

The ministry had planned to modify the point system used to hire Arab teachers by awarding 30 bonus points to candidates who have completed national service, but it is now saying this new system is unreasonable. Education Minister Gideon Saar and ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani are scheduled to hold special deliberations on the matter in next few days.

The decision, disclosed yesterday in Haaretz, elicited strong reactions within the ministry and among new and veteran teachers alike.

One educator who asked to remain anonymous told Haaretz that the whole situation is unacceptable, as Arab sector teachers are already granted 15 points by passing the Arabic language exam, while teachers holding doctorates and teaching certificates are awarded only eight points; and now, on top of that, Arabs who complete national service are to be rewarded with another 30 points.

Those in the Arab sector who oppose national service also expressed harsh criticism yesterday of the initiative.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee sent an urgent letter to Saar, calling for the plan to be rescinded immediately. In the letter, written by attorney Sawsan Zaher of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the group argues that performing national service is not a relevant component of the ability to teach.

Such preference is also unacceptable, the letter says, because it applies only to Arab teachers, which amounts to discrimination on the basis of nationality. Giving job priority to those who have completed national service contravenes equal opportunity laws, the committee further holds, as such laws forbid employers, including the government, from discriminating among job candidates on the basis of someone's nationality or views.

Arab Knesset members also criticized the decision and called for an urgent meeting of the Knesset education committee. Hadash chairman Mohammed Barakeh described the decision as "a policy that attempts to force national service on young Arabs" and "tame [them], as well as damage the freedom of speech and thought of the overwhelming majority of the Arab public."

MKs Jamal Zahalka and Hanin Zuabi of Balad demanded Saar rescind the decision.

"The decision shows the Education Ministry is not concerned with education, but rather with political considerations, and makes use of political coercion," he wrote.

"The ministry ... is turning itself into an arm of the Shin Bet security service in its attempt to control Arab citizens' thoughts and identity," Zuabi said.