Israeli govt cuts against Christian schools branded as ‘discriminatory’
Around 33,000 pupils in Israel, many of them Muslim, have not begun the school year, which was supposed to start on Sept. 1
While thousands of children around the world went back to school this week, some students in Israel remained at home after their schools launched a strike to protest budget cuts.
Forty-seven Christian schools with some 33,000 pupils, many of them Muslim, have not begun the school year, which was supposed to start on Sept. 1, complaining that Israel continues to fully fund private school networks that cater to ultra-Orthodox Jews while it slashes the Christians' budget.
The cuts were seen by some analysts as a discriminatory move by the Israeli government against Arabs.
“The government is discriminating the Arab community in the country and I would urge the state of Israel to invest more in these communities,” Yossi Mekelberg, an analyst at the UK-based think tank Chatham House told Al Arabiya News.
“It does not want these schools to be successful especially that Christian schools in Israel are very successful in comparison with Jewish schools that are fully funded.”
Mekelberg also suggested that the decision was due to the government’s decision to reduce its spending.
In Israel, Christian schools that manage their own affairs receive partial government funding, with the remainder of their budgets covered by either donations or tuition.
But in recent years, the Ministry of Education decreased its funding from 60 to 75 percent of the schools’ operating budgets to just 29 percent, according to Haaretz.
It has also implemented rules to limit the amount that the institutions can receive from their sources leaving many schools unable to cover their expenses.
In response to protests, the education ministry reiterated its assertion that there was no difference in the funding of the Christian and Jewish schools, according to AFP.
The ministry said that the Christians had been offered a number of ways to resolve the differences, but rejected them while choosing to close the schools “at the pupils' expense.”
Speaking about ways to ease the tension and allow students to go back to school, Mekelberg suggested that the government comes up with a common curriculum for all the students.
“I would like to see the formation of a single curriculum that would respect all communities in Israel… a curriculum that would teach more Christianity and Islam,” Mekelberg said.
“But in that case, the state needs to be ready to accept a curriculum that is different than the one it is teaching,” he said adding that the government of Israel needs to allow more diversity.
Christian schools in Israel, which welcome Palestinian children of all religions, teach Israel’s core curriculum in addition to lessons about religion and Palestinian history.
Mekelberg also said that he does not consider the merging of Christian schools with the state educational system as a suitable option, especially that it is likely to limit the institutions’ autonomy.
“These schools are very important in Israel and provide a valuable service for Arab students,” he added.
Christian schools in Israel are recognized by the government but not considered as official schools. They are not part of the state school system.
Meanwhile, Ron Gilran, vice president of the Levantine Group, a Middle-East-based geopolitical risk and research consultancy group, told Al Arabiya News that “the two parties will likely reach a compromise on the sum that the ministry will "pay back" to Christian schools.”
He added: “They will probably reach a compromise somewhere in the middle, that will be spread or divided into several budgetary years.”
Christian schools in Israel are reportedly asking for $50.9 million in order to halt the protest, according to the Times of Israel.
Until their demands are met, analysts expect parents, students, and teachers to stay in the streets.
“I don't assume that they will stop without any result whatsoever,” Gilran said.
“Every strike has its natural limitations so I guess that when a satisfactory compromise will be reached … and a compromise means that not all of their demands will be met - the strike will be over,” he added.
Gilran said that the finance and education ministries are likely to start discussing a compromise only “after the strike continues for several weeks.”
In the birthplace of Christianity, Christians are currently less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories.
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