State Refuses to Run Free Summer Camps at Semi-private Haredi, Arab Schools

State comptroller examines whether Israel's refusal to subsidize 'unofficial' schools' camps constitutes discrimination.

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Students at an Arab high school in Haifa.
Students at an Arab high school in Haifa. They have fewer opportunities to progress than their Jewish counterparts.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

The State Comptroller’s Office is examining whether the state is discriminating against children in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab semi-private school systems by not including them in the reduced-cost summer camp programs due to open next week.

The Education Ministry is only subsidizing camps in the official state and state-religious schools, while most Haredi schools and many Arab schools — particularly Christian, church-affiliated schools — are “recognized but unofficial” and receive only partial funding but are subject to less government supervision.

Haredi MKs are claiming that this is deliberate discrimination, and MK David Azoulay (Shas) filed a complaint about the issue with the State Comptroller’s Office.

“We respectfully tried to contact [Education Minister Shay Piron], and he didn’t even bother to answer us,” Azoulay told a Knesset State Control Committee hearing on Tuesday. “Piron is so proud of his reforms to promote equality, while all of them are gross, ugly discrimination.”

At the hearing, the comptroller’s representative, Leora Shimoni, said her office was looking into the complaint to see if the Education Ministry decision to exclude the unofficial schools was proper.

Awni Bathish, the principal of the Salvatorian Sisters School in the primarily Arab city of Nazareth, said that 56 percent of Nazareth pupils and some 70 percent of Haifa’s Arab pupils study in recognized but unofficial schools, because the state doesn’t offer them any other appropriate framework. “By law, anywhere the state can’t provide free education, it must subsidize private education,” Bathish said. “Contrary to the minister’s claims, the recognized but unofficial system is not monolithic; it comprises church schools, Haredi education and even the Reali School in Haifa.”

Yehudit Kadesh, director of the Education Ministry’s elementary school division, replied that the new plan covers 250 local authorities, and while most participating schools were state and state-religious schools, there were 16 Haredi schools as well as Arab, Druze and Circassian schools — all of which are part of the official state system.

“There’s no discrimination here, all sectors are represented,” she said. “The registered but unofficial schools can’t participate because the program was defined as serving the public system, but any school is welcome to join the public system.”

Dorit Morag, the Education Ministry’s legal adviser, said that Section 11 of the State Education Law gives the minister the right to favor the public system. Deputy Attorney General confirmed this, saying that since the camp project is not part of the formal education program, favoring public schools is legitimate under the law and backed by court rulings.

During a meeting on the issue last week, Piron said, “In large parts of the program, the Arab public studying in the public system is actually the primary beneficiary. In recognized unofficial schools, pupils are screened, the classes are smaller, teachers can be hand-picked and more.

“Whoever chooses to go that route, it’s his right, but part of the price is losing the benefits of public education,” said Piron. “I was elected to strengthen public education … whoever sets up a system outside the kingdom shouldn’t be surprised if he gets something different or less.”

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