"We are nearing a defining moment in the State of Israel's history; we cannot guarantee the country's future without securing the education budget," Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said Tuesday during a heated Knesset debate on the Treasury's plan to cut the educational system's budget.
According to him, western countries are increasing their education budgets despite the global economic crisis. "In 2007 we were still a little bit ahead of Iran and Syria in the field of science, but Jordan has already passed us. In math we've been able to surpass Lebanon, but, with all due respect, we aren’t talking about Korea, Japan or Singapore here," he said.
"I have no doubt that the finance minister (Yuval Steinitz) is aware of the statistics. If we continue to jolt our education system, we will essentially be promoting illiteracy as a strategic goal, apart from those who can afford private schooling. We will not be able to secure Israel's future if the education budget is not guaranteed."
Minister Sa'ar said he was in need of a "minimal addition to the education budget in order to turn things around.
"I promise that if I am given the basic tools, we will see different results in (Israeli students' scores) in international exams as early as 2011," he said.
Coalition member Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) warned that "when education is in danger, the country is in danger," and said he would vote against the education budget cut.
Knesset Member Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said "(Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu promised a vast improvement in the educational system, but now he is cutting its budget, just as he had done in the past.
"Education is our real national security. In 1948 there was no money yet they still came up with the funds to institute the Mandatory Education Law for a period of nine years. Thank God the current Treasury officials weren't around back then, because Israel would not have been established if they were."
MK Masud Ganaim (United Arab List-Ta'al) said cutting the education system's budget would send Israel "back to the Stone Age or medieval times."