Since September 1, teachers, staff and about 33,000 students at Arab Christian schools in the state of Israel have been on strike. Protesters says that the state is discriminating against them in terms of how much state funding they receive compared to Jewish and state schools, and now The Vatican has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene.
The prolonged protest has teachers, parents and young students setting up tents in what has become a nationwide strike. According to The Times of Israel, Putin has been contacted by the Vatican for an intervention on the budget conflict when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Moscow this week.
Israel considers Christian schools as recognized educational providers but unofficial institutions. The Christian schools say the funding cuts from 75% to 29% today constitutes a ‘death blow’ for Arab Christian schools and their communities. Two years ago the funding was slashed to 34% before dropping five more percentage points. Jewish schools continue receiving 75% of their funding from the state.
Due to recent budget cuts, Arab Christian schools were forced to raise their tuition fees for their 33,000 students. However, the situation has been made worse for these schools since the state has also implemented a fee cap, effectively leaving no other option for raising money:
“So on the one hand, we have 45 percent cuts over these years, and on the other, they are putting limitation to raise tuition fees”, Botrus Mansour, general director of Nazareth Baptist school said.
Protesting parents and teachers consider the state’s move racist and discriminatory.
“We are Israeli citizens, respecting the law, we believe in equality and these are the values we teach in these schools. I am aware that as an Arab there is a discrimination and racist law against us, which I am trying to hide from my children,” Rula Azar, a 35-year-old mother of two and a teacher in Ramla, told the NBC News.
“It happens only to Christian schools. Meanwhile, Jewish Orthodox schools, which are also ‘recognized, non-official schools,’ get the full budget.”
Abu Nassar, an adviser to Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land, backed Christian schools saying they’re not asking for unreasonable levels of funding. Nassar says that all 47 schools ask for about $50 million. Allegedly the ministries of Education and Economy offered about $12.8 million, that would return the funding percentage to its previous 34% level. However, school heads have rejected the offer.
Father Abd al Masih, director of the Christian Schools Network, shares many students’ and parents’ viewpoint that the government is starving Christian schools into oblivion through funding cuts. The Christian schools can only survive if they become state schools, he says.