The State Is Obligated to Provide Education to All Israel's Children – Including the ultra-Orthodox

It's hard to know whether the state's response to the suit filed against it by 52 former haredim was meant to scare the plaintiffs, or whether its shirking of responsibility had spiraled out of control.

Haaretz Editorial
Ultra-Orthodox children in Bnei-Brak, November 5, 2014.
Ultra-Orthodox children in Bnei-Brak, November 5, 2014.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Haaretz Editorial

From the state’s response to the lawsuit brought by 52 formerly ultra-Orthodox individuals against the ministries of education, economy and defense, one might suspect that the government has not internalized its basic obligation to provide education to all of Israel’s children, of all sectors and communities, to make it possible for them as adults to acquire a profession and earn a dignified living. This obligation, obvious in most countries, is especially breached with regard to the ultra-Orthodox. Placing the blame on the ultra-Orthodox leaders and organizations cannot replace government policy.

In October 2015, this group of formerly religious people, who have established their own organization, filed a suit in the Jerusalem District Court in the amount of 4 million shekels ($1.06 million). According to the plaintiffs — young people who had studied in ultra-Orthodox educational institutions — the state chose to “deny its responsibility” toward them and “permitted the schools and the yeshivas to evade their obligation to apply the core curriculum.” The result is gaps in education and difficulties entering the workforce. Even if the plaintiffs overcome these obstacles, it is mainly thanks to their own personal efforts. The state prefers to look on from the sidelines.

The state told the court that it bears no responsibility whatsoever for the state of affairs described in the suit. To be on the safe side, the Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office issued a statement that if the court decides to rule in favor of the suit, the price, the symbolic one and the actual money, must be paid by those responsible — the parents of the plaintiffs and the ultra-Orthodox institutions in which they studied.

It is hard to know whether the state’s statement was meant to scare the plaintiffs, or whether its shirking of responsibility had spiraled out of control. The ultra-Orthodox schools are recognized and funded by the Education Ministry, and it is that ministry which is responsible for implementation of the Compulsory Education Law and the core curriculum mandated by it. The sensitivity that must be applied when dealing with a community with a distinct social and cultural agenda cannot absolve the Education Ministry of its responsibility. Likewise, there must be no letup in the demand that the ministry fight determinedly against the separation of Jewish students from various ethnic origins in some ultra-Orthodox institutions.

It is too soon to know the outcome of the suit, which illustrates once again how the Education Ministry has hesitated over the years when it comes to ultra-Orthodox education. The ministry could have overcome some of the obstacles described in the suit by expanding the variety of schools intended for the ultra-Orthodox, or establishing a track for those 18 years old and older who wish to complete their education. In the past, the ultra-Orthodox factions torpedoed such a bill, out of concern that they would lose control over some of their voters.

The state’s response to the suit proves that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government gives preference to the ultra-Orthodox leaders’ math over the interests of Israel’s citizens.

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