The Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption has begun the process of privatizing of some of the Hebrew schools (ulpan) services it offers new olim, a move that raised concern among teachers working at the schools who fear they might lose their jobs.
According to the ministry, the existing Hebrew schools are not the ones being privatized; instead the ministry is outsourcing some of its services because of the expected increase of new immigrants to Israel in light of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the war in Ukraine.
A month and a half ago, the government decided to use outsourcing in Hebrew schools. New immigrants could now choose to either learn Hebrew in a private ulpan using vouchers from the state or at one of the already existing state-funded ulpans.
Some 500 teachers are employed by the Education Ministry at some 50 state-funded Hebrew schools. The schools have been in operation since the establishment of the state and have helped millions of new immigrants learn the Hebrew language.
Galit, who has been teaching Hebrew at the ulpan for the past 26 years, was outraged by the move.
"The system is the same: First they dry out the ulpans, saying they don't deliver, and the next phase will be to privatize and fire," Galit told Ynet.
"I don't understand why the State of Israel needs to privatize such an important and fundamental service. This will be an endless tragedy that cannot be fixed. Why break something that has already been fixed?" Galit went on to say.
She explained that the teachers would not be the only ones to suffer from the move. "The first to suffer would be the new immigrants, because a private company is primarily concerned with the profits, so the studies will definitely suffer," Galit asserted.
"We have schools all over the country and have been teaching for decades out of passion and Zionism. This is a first-rate Zionist enterprise. It's not just about learning a language, this is the first home the olim have in Israel - (they go on) trips, they learn about the holidays and they get to know Israeli society," she added.
A letter sent by some of the teachers to their colleagues said: "What does it mean for us? It's very simple - privatization. It might be done through the back door, without calling it like it is, but that's exactly the agenda the Immigration Absorption Ministry has been presenting for years, alongside the regular smearing done of the achievements of the ulpans."
The teachers went on to say that they considered this a concerning move that could endanger their livelihood. They denounced the fact the move was decided on shortly before the elections, while there was no minister in the Education Ministry and therefore the teachers were not represented.
"Not to mention the fact that for years, Hebrew schools had to cut back and decrease their operations over claims aliyah has been declining," the teachers wrote. "There's no money, but when aliyah is expected to increase, wonder of wonders, they found a budget and now it'll go to private hands via the Immigration Absorption Ministry."
The Immigration Absorption Ministry said in response: "Claims that the Hebrew schools are being privatized are baseless. The Hebrew schools' format remains as it is, without any changes (unless the Education Ministry decides otherwise).
"The Aliyah and Immigration Absorption Ministry is tasked with finding additional solutions to instilling the Hebrew language in new immigrants, while the nature of immigration has changed over the years. There is now a need to offer the option to study Hebrew during leisure time. The immigrant will still have the option to study at the ulpans, as they have had until now."
The ministry stressed that "the teachers are employed by the Education Ministry. Beyond that, nothing has changed besides providing immigrants who can't study at a regular weekly format with another option."