The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry has launched a project to promote Jewish agricultural values in the country’s elementary and secondary schools, seemingly without any involvement from the Education Ministry.
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The stated goal of the program is “to connect the students of Israel to the land, to agriculture and to their Zionist identity in the country,” according to an internal Agriculture Ministry document.
The program is being run in conjunction with an organization whose head , Itay Granek, is an active member Habayit Hayehudi, the political party that the agriculture minister belongs to. The organization, Zehut, runs Jewish identity programs in secular state schools.
The annual cost of the program, 4 million shekels ($1.05 million), is being split evenly between the ministry and Zehut.
A source familiar with Zehut and its bidding practices said that Jewish agricultural values had not been an area in which it had placed an education emphasis. “The contract raises questions with regard to Zehut’s particular expertise in the field of agriculture, and why the Agriculture Ministry actually chose to contract with it as a joint initiative and not through a support regulation that may have made it possible for several entities to receive funding,” the source said.
One document relating to the project – which is to begin on a pilot basis at 50 schools – makes reference to a joint steering committee with representatives from the Agriculture Ministry and Zehut, but the Education Ministry is conspicuous by its absence.
Education Ministry spokesman Amos Shavit refused to say if his ministry, which is headed by Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, approved or was involved in developing the new program. In addition to Granek’s ties to the party, four of the six members of the Zehut board are identified with Habayit Hayehudi.
Sources at the Agriculture Ministry refused to say who initiated the new program – whether it was the ministry itself or Zehut – or when discussions regarding the program began between the two.
A review of some of Minister Uri Ariel’s appointment diaries reveals that he participated in at least two Zehut events over the past year.
Granek declined to answer questions for this story. The Agriculture Ministry, meanwhile, said it had published a tender seeking proposals for the promotion of agriculture education, and that only one organization responded with a proposed program.