A strike by Israel’s Christian schools kept classrooms shuttered for the third consecutive day on Thursday, in protest of alleged discrimination over funding.
In the past Christian schools received roughly 65 percent of their budgets from the state, with the balance paid by parents — and sometimes private organizations or local government — as is the case with institutions that are recognized by the Education Ministry, but are not considered state schools.
But that figure was cut to 34% two years ago, sharply increasing the amount parents had to come up with.
The 47 schools, which provide education for some 33,000 children, claim they now only get 29 percent of their budget from the Education Ministry, which also limits the fees they can ask from parents, Haaretz reported.
A rally in support of the schools was set to be held in Ramle on Thursday, following other demonstrations earlier this week in Haifa, Nazareth, and Shfaram.
According to Haaretz, school administrators have contacted US State Department to lobby for the schools, some of which are more than a hundred years old.
The Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, said the schools are short approximately NIS 200 million ($50.9 million).
The strike would only end when a solution was reached, said Marcuzzo, saying that the issue has far-reaching implications. “If Christian schools are threatened, in the long run, it is the very Christian presence in Israel that is threatened,” he told AFP.
Marcuzzo said they were relying on the mobilization of Christians of all denominations, and that Pope Francis himself would raise the matter in a Thursday meeting in the Vatican with President Reuven Rivlin. “The Holy See will certainly discuss the issue,” he said.
Christian schools and Israeli authorities have been in tough talks for a year and a half over state funding for them and their 3,000 employees, but with no results.
“We’ve tried everything and have no option left but to go on strike,” said Botrus Mansour, spokesman for the schools.
The Education Ministry said in a statement that schools are funded equally with other similar recognized but non-official education institutes and added that “there has been no cut in the (funding) of the last year, and there will be no cut in that of the upcoming year,” while also noting that it would continue its dialogue with the schools.