Orthodox Schools Receive 90% of Budget for Jewish Identity

Figures counter statements by Education Minister Bennett, who said such activities are not restricted to Orthodox groups.

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Ultra-Orthodox children sit in front of a teacher as they learn the alphabet at the Shomrei HaHoma Torah School for boys in Jerusalem. Nov. 9, 2010.
File photo: Ultra-Orthodox children at the Shomrei HaHoma Torah School for boys in Jerusalem.Credit: Reuters

Ninety percent of the 30 million shekels ($8 million) allocated by the Education Ministry for activities augmenting Jewish identity in state schools goes to institutions associated with religious Zionism, according to a new report published by the nonprofit Panim organization for Jewish renewal. The other 10 percent goes to institutions considered pluralistic.

The report, which includes religious institutions that belong to Panim, states that 85 percent of the budget slated for centers for deepening Jewish education went to religious organizations. Furthermore, 96 percent of the budget meant to support Jewish study colleges and Land of Israel studies also went to religious bodies.

These two items are under the jurisdiction of the religious studies department at the Education Ministry, although their rationale was to increase Jewish education in secular schools.

The ministry also holds joint ventures in which private organizations participate in the funding of activities related to augmenting Jewish identity. Pluralist organizations received only 17 percent of the 40 million shekels devoted to these activities last year.

Panim CEO Michal Berman says this reflects a huge gap between Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s declaration that Jewish identity will be strengthened in a diverse and pluralistic manner, and the de facto policy in which religious elements are brought to secular schools.

The report is the first attempt to assess the activity of pluralist organizations in schools and is based on data from the finance and education ministries, as well as reporting by 12 organizations that reflect diverse Jewish streams.

Pluralist groups are active in 420 schools, in 144 local governments. Most of the activity involves working with principals and teachers, rather than directly with pupils. The Education Ministry’s policy is that external agencies work in this manner, allowing teachers to transmit what they learn to their pupils, whom they know better. The teachers are thus supposed to be the agents of change, rather than the external agencies.

Bennett and his ministry director general, Michal Cohen, reiterated this position in talks with pluralistic organizations. However, in contrast to policy, the budgeting regulations give priority to delivering content directly to pupils, with less money allocated for preparing learning materials or on teachers, according to the report.

The item regarding centers for strengthening Jewish education allocates 70 percent of its budget to direct activity with pupils, with the other 30 percent going on preparing materials and training teachers.

“The ministry doesn’t have the capacity to enforce its own official policy,” says a senior activist in one of the pluralist organizations. These conditions promote religious groups that operate within schools, not allowing others any access, they say. “It’s not obvious that senior officials at the ministry really want to see the official policy implemented,” adds an activist in another organization.

One such religious group is Zehut, the Jewish Israeli Movement, which is an umbrella organization for other Jewish identity-bolstering groups. It claims to operate in 1,000 state schools and kindergartens. Haaretz revealed last year that its CEO sent an internal email to affiliated groups, asking them to thank the heads of Habayit Hayehudi for increasing their budget.

One of the reasons these groups can work directly with pupils is that (mainly religious) girls doing national service can work in secular schools for them. Only 10 percent of girls doing national service worked for pluralistic organizations last year.

“The priority given to the religious-Zionist sector is assimilated by hundreds of thousands of pupils in state schools on a daily basis,” says Berman.

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