Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai tends to speak bluntly, without considering the public damage he might incur. But this trait, which is accompanied by a blithe disregard for the rules of political correctness, sometimes indicates genuine concern and caring.
That is what happened on Sunday at the “Educational Core” conference at the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College, Tel Aviv, where Huldai said that “the State of Israel is funding and nurturing entire communities of separationists and ignoramuses,” and that “private education is financed by the public, but there is no supervision over its content.”
He even urged the silent majority to rebel against this situation, in order “to restore Israeli democracy’s right to intervene in and decide on issues that are vital to it, like education.”
Huldai indeed minced no words. But the Shas leaders who hastened to respond were both mistaken and misleading when they said this constituted unbridled incitement. Huldai was expressing the anguish of that sizable public that pays the bulk of our taxes, yet whose children, who study in state schools, have in recent years received less education and fewer classroom hours.
Particularly outrageous was the response of Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), who claimed that it is actually the ultra-Orthodox who fund the secular public. Gafni knows very well that not only does the Education Ministry fund ultra-Orthodox schools, but so do the social affairs and religious services ministries, as well as the local authorities within whose jurisdiction these schools are located. Nor can he deny that supervision over these schools ranges from lax to nonexistent.
The education minister did recently say that his ministry would curtail funding to private schools that are not officially recognized by the state. But most of the schools affected by this decision are non-Orthodox institutions; funding for the ultra-Orthodox schools continues to flow from all the usual sources. These schools do not teach the core curriculum, and every education minister who has tried to force them to do so has failed utterly.
Due to this abdication, graduates of this school system − like those of the Islamic Movement and certain schools in the Zionist ultra-Orthodox community − learn a separatist, alienated view of democracy, and they lack the necessary tools to integrate into society and the economy.
Huldai spoke the truth: Education is vital for democracy, and he justly fears for its welfare. Israel must stop this dangerous socioeconomic erosion immediately.
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