Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai made harsh statements Sunday against the ultra-Orthodox education system, which he described as jeopardizing the future of Israeli society.
"Disillusionment and perhaps rebellion must emerge among the silent civilian majority which would restore Israeli democracy its right and ability to intervene and decide on those issues it holds dear," he said.
Huldai was speaking in a debate titled "Educational Core" in an advanced education conference organized by the Kibbutzim College of Education in Tel Aviv. On the opposing side was Knesset Member Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) who said, "The yeshiva student learns about Rabbi Judah Halevi and not about Bialik. We shall not teach about Bialik.
"Why should it bother anyone that we teach what we want? A Jewish student in state education knows nothing about Judaism at the end of his studies."
The conference was attended by some 1,000 education professionals from Israel and overseas, including representatives of the various sectors in the education system: state-secular, state-religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab.
Sunday's debate focused on whether agreement could be reached on basic core studies to constitute a basic and equal study program for all sectors. Consensus, however, was hardly reached.
Currently, there are seven core subjects which the Education Ministry requires to be taught: Hebrew, Math, English, Bible, History, Literature and Geography. The majority of Israeli schools abide by the program, apart from such educational establishments which were given exemption. Schools which do not include all seven subjects in their curriculum receive less funding from the Education Ministry.
A debate on whether to impose the core program on haredi institutions has been going on for years. Various budget sanctions against "rebel" establishments were discussed.
Huldai expressed indignation Sunday over the lack of adherence to the core program. "Everyone teaches whatever they want," he said.
"Radical Islamic sectors can educate against the State of Israel, and the state will fund it. The haredim also teach whatever they want, and are unwilling to teach the civic core of subjects, which any modern country would want for its citizens, in order to know what democracy means and be able to sustain themselves as adults and not become a liability on the tax-payer."
He further added, "Today the State of Israel is probably the only country in the world where private education is being funded by the public, without it having to adhere to a minimum of educational demands."
Huldai also noted, "Due to political pressure, in the name of multiculturalism and other advanced slogans - the State of Israel is funding and cultivating entire insulated and ignorant sectors which are increasing at a frightening speed and are jeopardizing our political and financial strength."
MK Gafni agreed that any yeshiva student should be allowed to study subjects even without mandatory knowledge or completion of the relevant matriculation exams. "In any modern country if a person who studied in a yeshiva wants to become an aeronautical engineer, why should he be denied the right to study it? Yeshiva studies are not being recognized as education background."
The Shas party said in response that Huldai "prefers foreign children to haredi and is using this pseudo academic analysis to disguise his racism."
Shas MK Nissim Zeev called on the mayor to "address the crime in Tel Aviv and not matters handled by the education minister."
The debate also touched on the situation in the Arab sector.
Dr. Saeed Barghouti, a lecturer in the Haifa Arab Academic College and former history and civics studies chief in the Arab sector commented on the issue.
Addressing the study of civic Israeli values based on the State of Israel's Jewish and democratic nature he said, "What is my relation, as an Arab, to these values? To what extent do I need them as an Arab citizen? I am not being recognized as part of Israeli society."
Barghouti offered a solution. "In order to promote a joint core program with the Arab sector we need to introduce a clause pertaining to the special nature of Arab education in Israel. Under the current state this may be an impossible request."