Israeli Government Looks to Impose Core Secular Education

(Photo: Marc Israel Sellem, POOL/Flash90)

(Photo: Marc Israel Sellem, POOL/Flash90)

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation has approved a law for its first reading in the Knesset that would cancel a law passed by the previous government requiring haredi elementary schools to teach 11 hours per week of English, math, and science.

The law intended to reduce the amount of funding for schools that didn’t teach core subjects. The law was never enforced, however, so in practice not much will change.

Yesh Atid, which led the fight to pass the core curriculum law that may be overturned, has condemned the new bill. According to Hezeki Baruch of the Israel National News, Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, said:

The government is taking away an entire generation’s ability to provide for themselves.”

Science and Technology Minister and Likud MK Ofir Akunis opposed the bill and walked out of the committee meeting before the vote.

Getting rid of Clause 10a in the Compulsory Education Law was part of a coalition agreement reached with the Orthodox faction United Torah Judaism after the 2015 Knesset elections, and the haredi party has opposed it from the beginning.

The law, which was never enforced, was supposed to reduce funding of exempt institutions and recognized but unofficial schools from 55% and 75% respectively to just 30% if the schools did not teach 11 hours of the core curriculum subjects per week.

However, these penalties never came to pass because of legal problems and because of the lack of teachers and inspectors for the haredi schools. Implementation was put off until 2018, reports Schlomo Cesana of Israel Hayom.

Now Education Minister Naftali Bennett gets to choose which schools do and do not get their funding.

50,000 students study in exempt institutions, and 75,000 study in recognized but unofficial schools.

According to Tamar Pileggi of the Times of Israel, many ultra-Orthodox girls’ schools offer math and English classes through high school, while boys’ schools oppose secular academic education and stop teaching the subjects at or before grade six.

Critics of the new law have said that the last government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had simply wanted to avoid confrontation, reports the Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi and attorney Uri Regev, director of the Hiddush religious pluralism lobbying group, said:

“There is no limit to the lack of responsibility of this government, and the damage it is willing to do to the future of the Israeli economy just to pay off the haredi parties and buy another year of power.

“The government’s decision will leave generations of haredi children without a basic general education and without the ability to enter the job market and provide themselves with an income in the future.”