The Education Ministry will grant priority in hiring Arab teachers to candidates who volunteered to do national service, according to a letter from the ministry to the National Service Administration.

The move comes in response to a letter about two months ago from the director general of the National Service Administration, Sar-Shalom Jerbi, to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. Jerbi requested the change.

The Education Ministry said its director general, Shimshon Shoshani, had accepted the recommendation that in the point system used to hire teachers, candidates who had done national service would get 30 bonus points.

The ministry's letter was signed by the official responsible for education in Israel's Arab schools, Abdallah Hatib. He said that beginning in the 2011-12 school year, all applicants for positions in the Arab education system who provide proof of their national service would receive the points.

Hatib said this would put them at the top of the list of potential candidates and "strengthen the value placed on contributing to the state among graduates of the education system in the Arab community."

Jerbi said in his letter that the change would benefit the education system because new teachers would begin their employment with the experience they gained in national service, which is frequently performed at schools.

Jerbi said new teachers in the Arab school system report that they have trouble finding jobs due to high demand for the positions.

Staff at the National Service Administration say they hope the extra points will encourage young Israeli Arabs, particularly women, to volunteer for national service.

This year 1,517 volunteers from minority communities are doing national service, according to the National Service Administration. Most of them are women. Officials expect those numbers to rise in the coming months because of new positions that will open up and government policies such as the bonus points.

Arab opposition

There is, however, an undercurrent of opposition in Israeli Arab society against national service, notably from the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee. Last month data from the committee was published showing that 80 percent of young Israeli Arabs oppose national service.

The committee said the figures presented by the National Service Administration represent a small fraction of eligible Israeli Arabs, whose numbers are not rising significantly. The new Education Ministry policy is expected to anger Arab candidates for teaching positions who have not done national service and do not intend to do so.

Ayman Udah, who chairs the Higher Monitoring Committee's group opposing national service, told Haaretz his organization would petition the High Court of Justice to invalidate the Education Ministry's decision to grant the bonus points.

He said the only relevant criterion for hiring teachers should be the candidates' teaching abilities, including values education and improvements in student achievement levels. He said national service is an irrelevant and illegal consideration.