Striking Christian Schools Protest Outside Israeli Education Minister Bennett's Home

Schools have been shuttered since start of academic year on September 1. Parents want state to increase funding, which has been slashed in recent years.

Jack Khoury
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Striking Christians outside Naftali Bennett's Ra'anana home, September 15, 2015.Credit: Dudu Bachar
Jack Khoury

Hundreds of parents and their children demonstrated opposite Education Minister Naftali Bennett's Ra'anana home in protest of government budget cuts targeting Christian schools around Israel. The protest is the latest demonstration since Israel's 47 Christian schools, which are attended by some 33,000 Arab-Israeli children, shuttered on September 1 in protest against the cuts.

The vast majority of demonstrators were parents and children from three Christian schools in Ramle, attended by most of the city's Muslim and Christian Arab children. The demonstration at Bennett’s house follows a similar protest before the Rosh Hashanah holiday at Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s home in Haifa. A demonstration in support of Christian schools was held in the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, even though there are no Christian schools in the town itself.

The strike is into its fifteenth day without any immediate prospects for a resolution. The Christian schools are protesting repeated cuts over the years in government funding and say the situation is made worse by limitations imposed by the Education Ministry on the extent to which the schools can collect private fees from parents.

The government used to fund 65 percent of Christian schools’ budgets, with parents paying the rest. However, the amount the state pays was cut to 34 percent in 2013. Christian school representatives are demanding that the ministry provide about 200 million shekels (more than $50 million) in government funding, but the ministry is offering much less—an increase of several tens of millions of shekels beyond current funding levels. 

Neither the prime minister nor the education minister has responded publicly on the matter. Economy Minister Arye Dery and Senior Citizen Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel met with leaders of Arab communities in Nazareth on Thursday. However, parents and children disrupted the meeting and asked the ministers to intervene to find an immediate solution. Gamliel said she had only received the information over the past week and was seeking a solution that would be brought to the cabinet.

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