Ignoring Court Ruling, Israel's Education Ministry Discriminates Against Pluralist Jewish Groups

The ministry republished its decision to reduce support for pluralistic Jewish organizations’ activities in schools by tens of thousands of shekels, which was disqualified in April by the High Court of Justice

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, last month.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, last month.Credit: Haim Tzach / GPO
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

The Education Ministry recently republished its decision to cancel the special funding received by pluralistic Jewish organizations for activities they provide in schools, though it was banned by the High Court of Justice seven months ago.

The decision was stricken in April by Justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Ofer Grosskopf, who rejected the ministry’s claim that there is no call to give any special additional points to these organizations – points that determine the amount of funding they receive – on the premise that all activity in Israel's public schools is pluralist.

Contrary to the court’s order, the Education Ministry did not hold senior-level talks with all relevant parties before reissuing the decision. At the April hearing, Justice David Mintz held a minority dissenting opinion.

Reducing support for the pluralist organizations, as well as transferring oversight of their activities to the Jewish culture division, were part of a broad move led by the Education Ministry to renounce the conclusions of the Shenhar commission – which ruled in the 1990s that Jewish studies in the general education system should take place from a pluralist and critical viewpoint, as well as present a variety of approaches and interpretations, and emphasize universal values.

The commission further ruled that the Orthodox approach to Judaism should not be the sole viewpoint expressed in schools. As part of the implementation of the commission’s recommendations, the old criteria for support gave the pluralist organizations additional points for their activities in schools.

But some two and a half years ago the ministry changed its support protocol, claiming that all activity – including by “Torah pods,” NGOs spreading Haredi culture, Chabad organizations and others – is pluralistic. Therefore, the ministry decided to reduce the pluralist organizations’ points from 30 percent to only five percent. This could mean a difference of tens of thousands of shekels per year.

The April ruling by the court was made in response to a 2019 petition by the Reform Movement and the “Panim” organization, representing groups involved in Jewish-Israeli education, against the change in funding criteria. The petition also protested the transfer of oversight of the support to the Jewish Culture division at the ministry, which is aligned with conservative religious organizations.

The change in protocol, Justice Barak-Erez ruled back then, “rests on no evidentiary basis or sufficient intra-ministerial consultation procedures, and therefore it must be reexamined.” Unlike the ministry, which seeks to renounce the conclusions of the Shenhar commission, Barak-Erez stressed their importance and wrote that the teaching of Judaism in Israel's nonreligious state schools must be done according to pluralist principles.

In early June, the Higher Education Ministry (now defunct and reabsorbed in the Education Ministry), which had been put in charge of apportioning the support, promised to return the special points to pluralist activities, as in the past. It further promised that a committee will be formed to look into the question of who will oversee the supported entities. Since then no new details on this issue have emerged – until last week, when the criteria for support for organizations were published, sans the changes ordered by the High Court of Justice.

Now the Israel Religious Action Center demands that the special points be returned to the support apportioned for 2021, and freeze requests for 2022 until a hearing on the matter is held. According to the Center’s director, Att. Orly Erez-Lachowski, “In April the High Court gave the Education Ministry a red card regarding the funding of Judaism studies in the general education system, ordering the support criteria to be reexamined to ensure that Judaism studies in the general education system are indeed taught pluralistically. It is regrettable that the ministry ignores the verdict and seeks to continue the conduct disallowed by the Court.”

Despite the publication of the old support criteria, the Education Ministry said in response that it is “acting subject to the High Court of Justice’s verdict, and has begun amending the criteria.” The response further stated that the ministry “shall continue to act in light of the court’s decision and amend all that is needed.” No details as to these amendments were provided.

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