The Lie of 'Equality for Israel's Children'

We have to ask why the state is giving any funding at all to dangerous ultra-Orthodox educational systems that subvert its very foundations.

The new bill submitted by Meshulam Nahari, a minister without portfolio from Shas, has been distributed to cabinet members by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but apparently it is intended for the next government or, more precisely, for the next coalition negotiations. In the proposal, which might be called Nahari Law II, or the upgraded Nahari Law, Shas demands that budgets and buildings for the ultra-Orthodox education systems be equal to those for the state education systems.

The original Nahari Law, passed in May 2007, obligates the local authorities to fund non-state educational institutions (with the status of "recognized" but not "official"), especially ultra-Orthodox institutions. The Center for Local Government estimates the cost of this at about a quarter of a billion shekels. But to preserve some differential between state and non-state education, the Nahari Law stipulates that recognized educational institutions receive from the local councils 75 percent of what is budgeted for state education. Nahari's new law aims to obtain everything not obtained by the first law and to achieve total equivalence between the ultra-Orthodox education systems (which make up the bulk of recognized educational institutions) and the state and state-religious education systems.

The following are the main points of the proposed law:

b The local council will participate in the budget and operational funding of the independent educational and Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani institutions in a way equal to its participation in state education, not just 75 percent.

b The local council will be obligated to employ administrative workers (such as janitors and aides) for the two ultra-Orthodox systems, and to pay various bills for them (such as water and electricity).

b The local council will build and allocate buildings for institutions of the two systems in a way equal to that for state education.

This proposal, a crude violation of everything agreed on during the talks on the first Nahari Law, is in fact the start of Shas' preparations for the coalition negotiations. It is possible to imagine Minister Nahari sitting and thinking to himself something like this: "How good it is that there are new negotiations," and "what else are we going to demand that we haven't already demanded?"

At the basis of his proposal is one of the most demagogic and baseless claims of ultra-Orthodox propaganda, the claim of "equality for all of Israel's children." This claim holds that children at state schools and private schools should receive equal funding and equal allocation of buildings, even though some parents have made a conscious decision to send their children to a private and separatist education system.

There is nothing equal between the state schools and the Shas and Agudat Yisrael schools or any other private school. The state schools are planned efficiently in accordance with the population's size in a given location. Private schools are located so as to compete with state schools. Sometimes they are in locations where they have a chance to get children to become religious. Sometimes they succeed in this and empty the state schools of students. At state and state-religious schools, the contents and values the state wants to transmit are taught. Among other things, children are prepared to deal with the labor market in the future, they are educated toward contributing to the state through military or national service, and they receive a Zionist education. The ultra-Orthodox schools avoid educating toward Zionism, military service and employment.

It is possible and necessary to ask why the state is giving any funding at all to dangerous educational systems that subvert its very foundations. Even more difficult is the question of why the Education Ministry and local authorities provide buildings for these education systems. Anyone who wants to learn privately should do this in a building constructed privately. There is no place for equality between state education and separatist and harmful education. The argument of "the equality of Israel's children" is the most mendacious claim in the Israeli discourse.

Equal budgets for state education and the ultra-Orthodox systems is in fact crude and unjustified discrimination against the children in the state education system. Even now the budgets are nearly equal. The prime minister must not lend a hand to Nahari Law II, which will make the situation worse. State education must be preserved, not damaged further.