For the first time since its inception, the national religious education system went on strike in protest of the NIS 47 million (USD 11.2 million) budget cut planned for 2007, in addition to the NIS 165 million (USD 39.4 million) in budget cuts over the past five years.
About 100,000 students of the system went on strike, prolonging their Hanukkah vacation. The strike was decided on by the Religious Zionist Education Forum.
“Next week there will be another warning strike in which the students will also participate,” Forum heads warned at the end of their morning protest outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office.
Dozens of education administrators and public figures from the religious sector participated in a demonstration in front of the PM's office.
National Religious Party Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev said during the protest that "the decision to eliminate the Jewish education is a nightmare. The budget and our children are being held hostage just because we are in opposition. The government must come to its senses before it cuts the branch that is supporting the country."
Following the strike, Knesset's Education and Culture Committee chairman
MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) called an urgent meeting to take place Monday.
According to Melchior, “The cut in the biblical education is draconian and kills the national-religious flow. We cannot aide in this. I demand an additional NIS 180 million (USD 43 million) be budgeted for the national-religious education base budget. Communication with the treasury on the matter is already taking place. It is unacceptable that funds for biblical education be at the mercy of coalitional agreements.”
Protestors outside PM Olmerts office (Photo: Haim Zach)
Chairman of the Forum and Director of Bnei Akiva Yeshiva’s Alhanan Glet explained the circumstances of the strike, “In 2002, the budget for religious Zionist education stood at NIS 285 million (USD 68 million), where as this year it will be cut to NIS 120 million (USD 28.6 million). That is a 60 percent cut over the past five years.”
The head of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva in Givat Shmuel, Rabbi Serga Procter, told Ynet about the difficulties caused as a result of the cut, "We have stopped teaching subjects such as Israeli thoughts, Prophet's hour, Holy hour and we have even minimized social activity. All the studies of Israeli values and the connection to Israel's Torah and the Israeli people have been stopped."
‘Parents are funding the cut’Procter said that the students' parents are forced to pay the price of the cut out of their own pockets.
"Actually, now each parent must pay an additional NIS 1000 (about USD 200) per month in tuition in order to fill the gap left by the cut," he said. "The parents are funding the cut and this is intolerable. It hurts them and it hurts us as well.
Procter added that he was about to fire teachers and that further down the road there would be a great risk that the school would be closed.
"If the cuts keep coming, we will be forced to close Yeshivas, they will cease to exist and this is a shame since we have excellent youth," he said.
In the past the Zionist religious education institutions were financed by the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
With the cancellation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, it was decided that the finance ministry transfer the budgets to education institutions via the Education Ministry alone.
In reality, the decision has not been implemented, and each year the treasury attempts to cut back on budgets meant for national-religious education institutions.
The Education Ministry reported in response, "The Yeshiva budgets, that was transferred from the ministry of religious affairs in 2004, was NIS 160 million. In the years 2004 – 2005 this ordinance benefited from coalitional additions that were stopped in 2005."