The awakening of the secular public over the last three years has led to a significant drop in the activity of some of the religious nonprofits within the national school system.
However, the Education Ministry has recently canceled a standing requirement to inform parents about the appearance of Orthodox organizations in their children’s school. This significant change, signed by outgoing Education Minister Naftali Bennett, was made without any public discussion.
There are currently 40 religious organizations conducting programs relating to Jewish subjects in secular schools, beyond the official curriculum. The budget for these operations comes from an ordinance supporting “centers for strengthening Jewish identity,” which come under the aegis of the Jewish Culture Department at the Education Ministry, a division priding itself on the promotion of Orthodox views in the school system.
Under Bennett’s stewardship, it was allocated an unprecedented budget: 28 million shekels ($8 million) to the centers and a record 218 million shekels to the department. With sanctimonious eye rolling and paternalistic religiosity, the department is breaching a rule set by the Shenhar Committee 25 years ago, embraced (but not implemented) by all Education Ministry heads: Jewish subjects in secular schools should be pluralistic.
One of the conditions for the centers to receive the funds was that there would be no obligation to attend their activities and that both the school and the organization conducting the activity would inform parents about it in writing. Half a year ago, the ministry published a draft of public comments relating to a new version of the ordinance: Parents could still choose whether their children would participate, but now only the school had inform the parents. Haaretz learned over the weekend that the final version – bearing the date of the Knesset’s dissolution – no longer contains the obligation to report these activities. Inserting this change after the publication of the public’s comments eliminated any possibility of appealing it.
The debate over increasing religiosity in the school system has brought these religious nonprofit groups and the department that finances them face to face with parent groups that found out about this hidden clause. They demanded that schools give prior notice and act with maximum transparency regarding overt activities such as those that stress the importance of believing in God or contain hidden ties to religious political parties. Determined parents have managed to repulse religious nonprofits. In Herzliya and Givatayim, a Tel Aviv suburb, the obligation to inform parents of these activities has become a municipal requirement.
The cancellation of the requirement to notify parents greatly impacts the ability to monitor these groups, which blurs the distinction between compulsory and voluntary activities. Declarations by Education Ministry heads regarding the rights of parents to participate in the education of their children were sacrificed for the benefit of Torah-centered and extremist religious Zionist groups. To counter these attempts at instilling religion, parents and secular educators must protect the right to receive an education based on their values.