A tip for Hamas
The Hamas' denseness is astonishing. The movement managed to conquer the Palestinian leadership after years of gradually consolidating its power in Palestinian society from the bottom up - through low-cost educational institutions, with a hot meal to boot. All the impoverished Palestinian children went to Hamas-run schools and thus the movement itself cultivated and nourished the next generation of faithful followers.
The point is, the Hamas could easily duplicate its method to Israel. Moreover, it could do it using Israel's own money.
All it needs to do is open an Arab school, declare that it's "exempt" (meaning, exempt from most of the duties of regular schools) or "recognized but unofficial", and sit back. Lovely state money will start streaming in and nobody will ever check up on the study program.
In case you think this tip to the Hamas is some sort of conspiracy, relax. There is already at least one school in east Jerusalem, 75 percent of whose budget is financed by the state, and that the Ministry of Education suspects is actually a Hamas school. I don't know what the ministry is doing with that information, but we may assume - not much.
Usually the ministry doesn't do much, or doesn't do anything at all, when it comes to policing schools and kindergartens that don't belong to the regular channel.
Recognized but unofficial
"Recognized but unofficial schools" are hardly supervised at all, though 75 percent to 85 percent of their budget comes from the ministry. They are also supposed to teach 75 percent of the curriculum that the ministry sets for primary schools.
"Exempt" schools are not supervised at all, though the taxpayer pays 55 percent of their budget and they are supposed to reach 40 percent to 55 percent of the regular curriculum. But in the absence of supervision, nobody knows if they actually are teaching any arithmetic, English, citizenship, or any other subject that people need in order to participate in society.
Just so you get the picture, almost all the ultra-Orthodox primary and secondary schools belong to those two - the "recognized but unofficial schools" and the "exempt" ones, and are thus left pretty much devoid of ministry supervision. Almost all the Arab primary and secondary schools also belong to the two categories. It is apparently no coincidence that both sectors are left to their own devices by the Ministry of Education, given a freedom that borders on neglect.
No coincidence - the ministry admits as much itself: "For years the ultra-Orthodox sector as given great autonomy in running its educational institutes," it wrote in answer to a petition to the High Court of Justice in 2002.
"That autonomy fit in with the pedagogic concepts at the Education Ministry at the time, which supported minimal intervention in the manner in which (unofficial) educational institutions were run, and giving the educational institutes a great deal of freedom in devising their curricula." Meanwhile, secular parents who want to establish a democratic school for their children get no such autonomy in operation, even in construction, of their schools.
"The financial allocations to institutes that do not meet the required conditions should not be cancelled," the ministry goes on to say, "as allocations to educational institutes are not necessarily conditional on the institute fulfilling the conditions required of recognized institutes."
We are to understand that the Education Ministry sees no reason not to give money to ultra-Orthodox schools, even if they do not follow the minimal study plan, and teach nothing other than Torah. Need it be said that no secular school would get so much as a penny from the Education Ministry unless it proved that it fully meets all the academic requirements of the ministry.
Due to a petition to the High Court, the ministry was forced to force the ultra-Orthodox schools to teach core studies as well, and this month the ministry reported that it's happening. But in the absence of real supervision, it is hard to imagine that the ministry is enforcing the requirement in the ultra-Orthodox schools. Knesset member Avraham Ravitz of United Torah Judaism was not embarrassed to say so openly: "We don't adhere to the core mitzvoth," he told Haaretz.
His unabashed admission shows where the problem lies. It is no coincidence that the Education Ministry does not insist on supervising the ultra-Orthodox schools while feeding them hundreds of millions of shekels a year, if not more. It is no coincidence because it is in the interest of the political echelon for there to be no such supervision. In its absence, the ultra-Orthodox can continue receiving their infusions via the Education Ministry, and use that money to cultivate their next generation, and to hell with the actual education that the next generation receives. In that, Israel is not far from the methods of the Hamas.