Education Minister Bennett Refuses to Fund Training for Arab Women Doing National Service

Ministry only funds national service training for women whose positions are from the ministry itself, most of them religious Jewish women.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at a meeting, February 16, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Education Minister Naftali Bennett has told the State Control Committee his ministry will not fund training for Arab women doing national service, most of whom serve in Arab schools and whose positions are funded for the ministry by the National Service Administration.

The head of the State Control Committee, MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid), called the development “unacceptable discrimination.”

The ministry said its refusal stemmed from the fact that the ministry only funded national service training for women whose positions are from the ministry itself. Most of these are religious Jewish women, and the ministry does not have sufficient funds to fund positions that belong to the National Service Administration.

In 2014, 3,748 Arab Israeli men and women did national civilian service, the Knesset Research and Information Center reported. Nineteen percent of them were Bedouin, 53 percent were other Muslims and 17 percent were Druze. Below 1 percent were Circassian, a non-Arab Muslim minority with origins in the Caucasus.

Education is the leading field in which Arab Israelis do national service, followed by health care.

Ninety percent of Arab national-service volunteers are women, and all of them live at home when serving. This year the number of non-Jewish national-service volunteers jumped to about 4,500, the National Service Administration said.

As of 2014, the Education Ministry had the largest number of national service participants, at 3,636 volunteers, the research center said. Fourteen percent were engaged in education involving either Jewish heritage, the strengthening of Jewish identity, or unity in Israeli society.

At a Control Committee hearing on national service about two weeks ago, Elharrar tried to clarify why the Education Ministry was the only ministry refusing to fund training for national service positions from the National Service Administration, all of which are filled by non-Jews.

In a letter to Elharrar before the hearing, Bennett wrote: “As long as the training isn’t carried out by the [National Service] Administration, as required, we cannot approve the placement of volunteers under the auspices of the administration at educational institutions.”

Another session of the committee will be held tomorrow in an effort to resolve the training issue with the Education Ministry.

Sar-Shalom Jerbi, the head of the National Service Administration, was angered by Bennett’s comments.

“We grew by 1,000 volunteers this year alone,” Jerbi told Haaretz, adding that 78 percent of the non-Jewish volunteers were doing their service in schools and villages in the Arab community.

“Bennett is actually threatening that if the administration doesn’t train them, he won’t put them in schools. The main obstacle is the Hebrew language, so the administration trains them in the language over the whole year,” Jerbi said.

“But we now want to add another six to seven days of training in the service itself. Bennett wouldn’t conceive of saying this about the national-religious girls,” he said, referring to Orthodox Jewish participants.

“I want the Arab girls to receive what my daughter, who did her national service in a school, received,” Jerbi said.

“The absurdity here is that the ministry receives the positions to operate in the schools and the National Service Administration pays it, so they only have to pay for the training. You should be saying thank you for the funding of the position,” he said.

According to Jerbi, the sum involved is about 1.5 million shekels ($385,000) a year.

Elharrar added that the national service must be consistent regarding the training, rights and duties involved.

“It’s not clear why there’s a difference in training for young people who come from the National Service Administration and those from the Education Ministry . This is unacceptable discrimination,” she said.

“The Education Ministry is obligated to see to and fund the training of other groups and not fob its responsibility off to other ministries or bodies.”

As she put it, “treatment of and investment per young person in the non-Jewish community by the Education Ministry is completely different from the Jewish community and must be corrected.”

The Education Ministry responded that “the issue began under the previous minister and we are doing everything we can to resolve it including returning the Arab girls’ positions to the Education Ministry. During the term of Minister [Shay] Piron, the Arab girls’ positions were transferred to the National Service Administration, including responsibility for their training.”