Is the Shas party's demand that it receive the education portfolio the height of audacity? It's not clear. When former Shas leader Aryeh Deri was charged with corruption in the late 1990s, some party officials asked for the police portfolio (before it became the Public Security Ministry).
Yes, this is the party that holds the national record for criminal convictions, whose top leaders are familiar with the police force mainly because they have sat in interrogation rooms, the same Shas that was once a major player in organizing a mass rally against the High Court of Justice. Therefore, demanding the education portfolio isn't the height of audacity, though it may be an attempt to recreate it.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai has told the press that his party wants to run the Education Ministry so it can introduce values into the schools and fight crime and drugs. Of course, in one of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's recent weekly talks, he gave several convincing reasons for giving Shas control of the ministry. "The secular teachers don't know anything, not Shabbat or holidays .... They are asses who teach the nonsense of the non-Jewish nations, and that's all,"he said. In the same talk, Yosef said it was wrong to insult the secular.
It's worth checking what Shas did in the last Knesset that justifies putting it in charge of education for the entire country. It passed the Nahari Law, which forces municipalities to budget for separate ultra-Orthodox education even if they're not interested in doing so. It also helped pass the Core Curriculum Law, which assures that in the future, too, ultra-Orthodox students in yeshiva high schools won't receive a general education and will find it very difficult to join the workforce. Indeed, that is a worry for all Israeli children.
But it's reasonable to assume that Shas will not secure the education portfolio, and a seasoned political operator like Yishai knows that. That's why it's worth looking into what exactly he is trying to achieve. One possibility is that he wants control of the Interior Ministry to compensate for not getting the education portfolio. Over the past decade, Shas has largely been kept away from the portfolio it so adores, the one that allows it to buy the support of mayors and city councils and convince them to strengthen the party's branches and educational institutions. The idea of once again giving Shas control over the Immigration Administration when it has such a hostile attitude toward foreigners is a dangerous one. Shas has already caused enough damage and suffering to new immigrants and those seeking family unification.
It is possible and necessary to expect all prime ministerial candidates to make it clear that the Interior Ministry will not go to Shas. One can especially expect this from Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. Ultimately, Shas is most eager to reach Likud voters.
Shas also appears to want to renew the tradition of having a deputy education minister with full authority over ultra-Orthodox education. This, too, must not happen. The next Knesset will make the crucial decision whether ultra-Orthodox elementary schools will have to adopt the core curriculum. Ultra-Orthodox schools constitute about a quarter of all Jewish elementary schools. Any decision that exempts ultra-Orthodox schools from teaching general studies would sentence the entire country to degeneration and regression to the developing world. The key Education Ministry positions must go to people who believe in general education and realize that knowledge of "the non-Jewish nations" cannot be denigrated as nonsense.
There is another danger here as well. Shas took advantage of the last Knesset term to revive some remnants of the former Religious Affairs Ministry, turning them into a mini-ministry called the Religious Services Ministry. It might be seeking a full revival of the ministry, which would entail giving it back responsibility for yeshivas, Torah studies and the establishment of religious institutions.
There was so much corruption in the Religious Affairs Ministry that many saw it as a ministry for the desecration of God's name. It is to be hoped that those who form the next coalition will know how to protect Judaism from the Knesset members who purport to represent it, and will make sure this terrible ministry is not revived.
But if Shas does end up winning the education portfolio, there is undoubtedly an ideal candidate for the position - former faction whip Yair Peretz, who used to be close to Yishai. Peretz received a fraudulent academic degree by handing in the work of a female student, and didn't even bother changing the wording of the papers from the feminine form to the masculine. With such friends, wouldn't Yishai be better off focusing on inculcating values to his own party?
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