Netanyahu: Entrepreneurship as Important as Investment in Education

The prime minister clashes with his finance chief on the issue, says the poor record of the Soviet economy as cautionary tale.

Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu, August 14, 2016.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon clashed at a cabinet meeting Tuesday after Kahlon criticized the poorer achievements by students in outlying areas of the country, sources at the meeting said.

"It has to be business entrepreneurship that brings economic improvement to these areas," Netanyahu reportedly said, responding to a thrust by his finance chief. 

“In outlying areas, 2 percent pass the high-school leaving exams, and it’s zero percent in Rahat,” Kahlon had noted, referring to a Bedouin town in the south. His figures apparently refer to the percentage of students who took the highest-level math exam during the 2014-15 school year.

“That can’t continue,” Kahlon told the cabinet meeting, which dealt with preparations for the new school year. “We have to take responsibility. It’s unacceptable for students in outlying areas only to be good in vocational programs. It perpetuates the disparities. Education is everything. We have to invest in education.”

The discussion escalated from there.

Netanyahu: “Although the government of [Yitzhak] Rabin invested a lot in education, performance worsened. It’s not only education. It’s education and economics. See to it that we have a growing economy.”

Kahlon: “I’m seeing to the economy, and that isn’t in conflict with the subject of education.”

Netanyahu: “I don’t agree with your line. I didn’t agree with [former education ministers] Gideon Sa’ar and Shay Piron. It has to be business entrepreneurship that brings economic improvement to these areas. Look how much the Soviet Union invested in education, but they failed because there wasn’t business entrepreneurship there. In Russia everyone was an engineer and ultimately the economy collapsed.”

Kahlon: “We can’t let outlying areas of the country be the Soviet Union while north Tel Aviv and [nearby] Ramat Hasharon are the United States.”

At the beginning of the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu discussed the school year that begins on Thursday. “Our goal is to carry out a revolution in education,” he said. “This revolution will be based on two things that I can summarize in two words: excellence and Zionism.”

In addition to letting students reach their potential, the education system will make a “supreme effort” to teach Bible and Jewish heritage, Netanyahu said, “refuting the big lie here regarding our right to be in this land and the justice in our being here the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. These things are important, as are other aspects of heritage; the heritage of the Jewish people’s openness and their contribution to the world.”

At the meeting, Education Minister Naftali Bennett noted the poor performance in outlying areas in math and English. He cited the percentage of students who took the high-school leaving exam for five units of math, the most advanced level. He said that in Hatzor Haglilit in the north it was 3 percent while in two small cities near Tel Aviv Ramat Hasharon and Kiryat Ono it was around 25 percent.

“Does this sound reasonable? Did God spread more brains in the center of the country? Is this something that we as a government can accept? It’s severe neglect and we’re determined to fix it. That’s why I’m focusing on science and math, and this year also on English,” Bennett said.

“We’ve made a major turn toward a major personal education system with smaller classes, a second classroom aide in kindergartens, a total change in the study of math, and a national program in English.”

Bennett also cited the work of the Biton Committee, which recommended including more material about Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin in the curriculum, “which we established to connect different parts of this nation, and the year of Jerusalem, which will begin immediately.”

“And this year, we’ll simply move into higher gear,” he said.