In a move to demonstrate solidarity over equitable education funding, Arab schools in Israel went on a strike to support Christian schools that are facing public funding cuts. About 450,000 students did not go to school Monday, September 7 to show their support for Christian schools and to demand equal treatment with equal public funding. Christian school officials and parents say the Israeli government is discriminating against Christian schools.
Christian schools say Israel is cutting their funds as a way to force them into integrating with the Israeli public school system. According to school administrators, this could affect the Christian values and high academic standards of these private schools. The protesters argue that the government favors large private schools of ultra-Orthodox Jews while Christian school budgets are being slashed.
Christian and other private schools which are not part of the state school system receive public funding which covers nearly 75% of their school’s costs, but the state has been gradually cutting back on school funding with Christian schools getting one third as much as Jewish schools receive.
Until two years ago, Christian schools received 65% of their budget from public funding. Now the public funding is at 34% with parents having to pay increased tuition fees to cover the gap.
“We are demanding that the state give us 200 million shekels ($53 million) per year, to make up the difference and cover costs,” school official Wadie Abunassar said during a rally outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, the day before the massive strike.
On Sunday, 2,500 people gathered outside the prime minister’s office to protest. Catholic church leaders, Muslim and Christian parents, Arab legislators and Arab mayors rallied along with the protesters.
With the majority of Israeli Christians being of Arab descent, Arab schools across the country rallied in support of the Christian schools. One of the banner slogans was “Christian schools are not for sale.”
“This is discrimination and you know we pay all our dues and as citizens of this country, we are law-obeying citizens and we deserve equal rights,” Ibrahim Fakhouri, Christian parent from Nazareth said.
The BBC quoted an announcement in the Jerusalem Post by the Israeli education ministry:
“Christian schools are funded in an equal manner as other recognized but unofficial schools in the State of Israel.”
Since the beginning of the 2015 school year, 47 schools went on strike with about 33,000 students not attending school. According to Associated Press, there are about 150,000 Christian citizens in Israel and about 50,000 more in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“We, all the Arab Christian schools, are demanding equality. There is no equality for our schools,” said Ragheed Massad, a student from Nazareth.
The strike will continue until the schools’ demands are met.