MK Threatens to Challenge 'Gafni Bill' in High Court

Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh will appeal to the Supreme Court if the "Gafni bill" on state sponsorship for religious schools is passed in its present form, Haaretz has learned. The bill, proposed by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), suggests that the only private schools to enjoy state funding will be the Independent Education Institutes affiliated with UTJ and the Maayan educational network affiliated with Shas.

The proposal enjoys wide support within the coalition, which is keen to rush it through legislation before the summer vacation, which would allow the new funding to reach schools as early as September. It will be debated at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation today.

The proposal singles out two private education networks for state funding, while leaving all the others - including the Christian and Democratic schools, as well as the Hebrew Reali Social School in Haifa - without any state support whatsoever. The bill is also set to expand the local municipal authorities' budget by some NIS 95 million; they will also have to allocate resources to sponsor the schools' administrative and maintenance expenses.

Sources in the Ministry of Education said last week they believed a distinction needed to be made between the two ultra-Orthodox networks and all other private schools, but not in the manner suggested by Gafni. They also said support of private education will see a population shift from public schools to private schools, which the ministry does not supervise as closely.

Tirosh, herself the former director-general of the ministry, said the bill would create "ineqaulity between the acknowledged but informal educational institutions by discriminating in favor of those two particular networks."

She alleged that "The coalition and the Ministry of Finance, which promote both MK Gafni and a rush-through legislation of the budget and the Economic Arrangements Bill, are allowing Gafni's own bill to be passed. It looks like a give and take deal."

Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron (New Movement-Meretz) said the Gafni bill was "a scandalous sequel to the Nehari bill, which gave certain rights to ultra-Orthodox establishments without compelling them to conduct themselves as part of the Israeli education system. Netanyahu had yielded to coalition blackmail yet again."

MK Ophir Pines (Labor) called upon the members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation not to "surrender." "The passing of the bill will bring down the local authorities that will have to sponsor it," he said.

Gafni said he was willing to soften the bill by changing it to call for 75 percent sponsorship by local authorities instead of 100 percent.