It appears that in the developing struggle involving Education Minister Yuli Tamir and national service organizations, particularly the centers for deepening Jewish identity, no holds are barred.
Under a veneer of seemingly professional and educational arguments hide serious ideological disputes, in particular a reality and facts that some seek to ignore. In all matters related to facts on the ground, Minister Tamir stands out as someone who insists on not letting the facts confuse her.
I will first note that in my view, the education minister's desire to set priorities is legitimate and appropriate. The minister is authorized, and indeed obligated, to set priorities and decide, for example, that the number of teaching jobs aimed at assisting mentally disabled children should be boosted at the expense of Jewish studies teaching positions.
Yet even legitimate decisions must be explained, and particularly in line with the truth and with reality. It appears that Tamir's latest decision to stop religious girls on national service teaching Judaism in schools is neither in line with the truth nor with reality.
The education minister does not want religious girls going into secular schools. This is the story, the whole story, and no mountains of nice words about pluralism and openness will cover this simple truth. By the way, we have already had such education minister, Shulamit Aloni, who fought the exact same war and demanded that schools refrain from inviting religious national service girls. However, Aloni failed on this front.
The current minister, who in this matter at least wishes to continue on the path outlined by Aloni, apparently chose a slightly more sophisticated approach. She does not turn to school principals directly because she realizes they think otherwise. She simply aims to close the centers for deepening Jewish identity, so that even schools that wish to invite the girls would find it impossible to do so. According to Tamir's plan, there simply won't be such girls.
What we have here is a stubborn and clear attempt to dictate a reality. The fact is, and let there be no mistake about it, that there has been a consistent and significant increase in the scope of activity undertaken by the centers for deepening Jewish identity.
That is, more and more secular schools are turning to more and more such centers and seeking (while paying for this) more and more national service girls. The minister's policy completely contradicts what is happening on the ground. The principals understand that all the claims that we're talking about private branches making their way into their schools are false, and that they choose to order a paid service because they perceive it as beneficial and proper.
A principal in the Beit She'an Valley, for example, has the free choice of selecting either the Holiday Archive at Beit Hashita or the center for deepening Jewish identity in Beit She'an. Nobody is forcing him to do anything.
Those who speak highly about the importance of pluralism are supposed to be the ones who should disapprove attempts to shut down diverse educational options and give principals, who are secular education officials, less credit in making their choice without the education minister or anyone on her behalf attempting to force anything on them.
Threatening right-wing octopus?
Yuli Tamir's decision also implies a lack of faith in principals. The principals choose to show their faith in the activity of national service girls, yet Minister Tamir does not believe in them and their judgment. For pluralistic reasons, of course.
Yet the most serious implication of the minister's decision is yet another particularly difficult blow to Jewish identity studies at Israeli schools. The drastic cutbacks in Jewish classes led by national service girls would not be replaced by anything.
Thinking that schools themselves would be the ones to teach Jewish studies is no more than an illusion. There is good reason why time and again we see that the conclusions of the committee that ruled that Jewish studies teachers must be trained to work at secular schools are no more than pretty words that are disconnected from reality.
The teachers did not join such classes, and the schools do not have enough hours to dedicate to this issue. We can assume that had this been possible, schools would have done it a long time ago. Again, nobody is forcing anyone to use the services of national service girls.
According to data collected by the centers for deepening Jewish identity, the implication of the planned cutbacks in the coming year is that 64,000 children in Israel would lose one hour of Jewish studies a week.
The easiest thing is to classify all religious girls as the long arms of a threatening right-wing octopus and cry out that we're talking about an effort to turn secular kids religious under a sophisticated veneer. (By the way, the first ones to kick out a girl who involves political activity in her work are the centers' directors themselves.)
It is much harder to check whether these charges have a hold in reality, and it is particularly difficult to address the question of whom or what would be filling the vacuum created by the education minister's decision.
The writer is among the leaders of the Bema'aglei Tzedek non-profit organization and the director general of the Aharai movement