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The cries of woe by the leaders of Betar Illit, who want hot meals for the settlement's educational facilities, is reminiscent of the old adage about the "robbed Cossack," who not only causes havoc, murdering, raping and plundering, but also accuses his victims of robbing him. Their public relations spin totally ignores the fact that this was the choice of the town's parents and functionaries, not some edict by the cruel Zionist regime.

The residents of Betar Illit have had many chances to become part of the framework that funds hot meals for schoolchildren. Even if we assume that they would not choose the state religious educational track, the settlement has seven schools in the independent and Shas-affiliated tracks that do get funding from the state for a long school day and a hot meal. The parents whose children study at other educational facilities in the town are those who refused to send their children to either track, preferring an even more separatist school. It was their own choice.

Each school also has a choice. It could decide to join either the independent or the Shas-affiliated track, and get funding for a long school day and hot meals. They prefer not to because this would oblige them to undergo greater supervision and offer general studies. That is the decision of the schools themselves.

The attempt to present the issue as if it concerned a hot meal for hungry children distorts the facts and exploits the public's lack of knowledge about the facts in the legal case. It is not the Education Ministry's duty to feed hungry children. That is the job of the Social Affairs Ministry. The Education Ministry gives children a meal because they remain at school for a long school day. Were the ministry to fund meals in the other schools in Betar Illit, those that do not get money for a long school day, it would be discriminating against tens of thousands of hungry children all over the country.

This argument leads us directly to a discussion of the question of voluntary poverty. Every year, when the National Insurance Institute publishes its figures on poverty, the country is aghast. There is usually very little discussion of the fact that a large percentage of those who fall below the poverty line come from the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) sector - which teaches its children not to work and actually chooses poverty and a life of living off welfare handouts voluntarily.

This is exactly the situation when it comes to hot meals. The Haredi parents chose to send their children to the most private of private schools, but demand funding from the state as if they were state schools. Before turning to the issue of funding hot meals, it would be worthwhile checking whether the funding that the extremist Haredi educational institutions do receive is legal. Many of the private Haredi educational facilities do not accept the Education Ministry's "core curriculum," not even the watered-down version that the ministry now imposes. The ministry can not recognize a school that does not implement the core curriculum.

The Haredim tend to present the struggle over the core curriculum as an attempt to force a foreign culture and heresy upon them. In fact, the core curriculum is the minimum body of knowledge that the state obliges its citizens to have so that they will be able to join the labor force and not become a burden on society. In the United States, it is a condition for receiving any funding from the state, and Haredi institutions there teach the core curriculum. That is also because American Haredim uphold the laws of the gentiles and because there, adult Haredim go out and work.

The justices of the High Court of Justice ruled, in a case involving Chabad kindergartens, that the Long School Day Law was promulgated for the official state schools, and only for them, and that the unrecognized schools could not benefit from it. But the Haredim would like to have the best of both worlds - private education and no supervision, an exemption from integration and freedom to choose their own teachers, but also funding as if they were state schools.

It is logical, correct and moral for the state to give considerable preference to its schools, which are open to all. In practice, there is unfortunately no such preference. Studies done at the end of the 1990s proved time and again that funding per pupil in the Haredi schools is much higher than that in the state or state-religious schools. This is the real discrimination that needs to be corrected.