Proposed Split of Education Portfolio Draws Fire

Outgoing Education Minister Yuli Tamir yesterday called the proposal to divide the ministry, by appointing an official with ministerial authority for the ultra-Orthodox school network, "profoundly wrong and separatist."

Shas's demand to create the post in the new government for MK Meshulam Nehari, as part of the coalition agreement being hammered out by Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, was revealed by Haaretz last week.

Tamir said the idea was raised during her term as well. "I completely opposed it," she said. "The education minister represents the entire education system and is committed to all streams." She said that any such measure would end up hurting Haredi education, as "any effort to obtain funding for it will be perceived as extortion."

"It means forfeiting the idea that education can bridge divisions and disputes and would represent a grave setback to the attempt to build a shared society," Tamir said.

Her comments were echoed by several senior education figures. The head of the education advocacy organization Hakol Hinuch, Rabbi Shai Piron, said that if the idea is still being considered, "a far-reaching media campaign will be launched to convince Benjamin Netanyahu to give it up."

Businessman and philanthropist Dov Lautman, who chairs the organization, said he believed Netanyahu was unlikely to proceed with the reform, "but sadly enough, we are yet to hear a formal statement on the matter."

Israel Prize laureate Professor Chaim Adler of the Hebrew University said the appointment of a separate Haredi education minister was "unprecedented worldwide."

"This would be the final straw before a complete segregation of the different education streams," he said.

Rabbi Piron said yesterday that prior to the elections his organization ejoyed "fruitful collaboration" with Netanyahu. "The education system should be bringing people together, not pulling them apart," said the rabbi.