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Gafni vows to ‘get even’ with authorities who opposed funding private Haredi schools

United Torah Judaism MK says that party will ‘not turn the other cheek’ during upcoming municipal elections to 170 local leaders who signed letter

UTJ MK Moshe Gafni speaks at a Degel HaTorah faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 9, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni speaks at a Degel HaTorah faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 9, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni vowed to get even with the heads of local authorities who signed onto a letter pushing back against a clause in the new government’s coalition deals which would compel local councils to allocate more funds to Haredi schools that don’t teach the state-mandated core curriculum.

“A large part of these local council heads are our partners, and we are their partners… whoever is signed on this letter, which says that Haredi children won’t receive funding, will be at the bottom of priorities — it will be a benchmark for us in the upcoming local council elections,” Gafni said Monday at a faction meeting of Degel HaTorah, one of the two parties that make up UTJ.

“When we are given such a resounding slap, we will not turn the other cheek,” Gafni added. “Whoever signed onto such a document — which is serious in every possible respect — we will get even.”

Elections in local authorities across Israel — which occur every five years — are slated for this October.

In a letter sent last week to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Education Minister Yoav Kisch, a group of 170 local council leaders protested a demand to dedicate “hundreds of millions of shekels” to Haredi educational institutions that are not regulated by the Education Ministry.

“We won’t agree to benefit one population over others in a way that circumvents the considerations of the local council,” the leaders wrote. “We won’t allow the state to expropriate the authority and responsibilities of the local councils on education.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children from the Kretchnif Hasidic dynasty study at a school in the central city of Rehovot on September 10, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Speaking on Monday, Gafni denied that the UTJ coalition agreement demanded priority be given to Haredi pupils.

“There was nothing in the coalition agreements with UTJ that requests preference,” Gafni insisted.

“Everyone knows that the infrastructure for Haredi schools everywhere is less than that for state-run schools,” he claimed. “Buildings that are about to collapse, old buildings, trailers — everyone knows this, it’s not new.”

“Aren’t these [Haredi] students also your residents? Don’t you need to be concerned with their education?” he asked. “Do their parents not pay arnona [property tax]? Are they not residents?”

Meanwhile, a representative of the mayors told Channel 12 that they would not be intimidated by Gafni, but in any case they don’t have the funds to comply with his demands.

Gafni also ridiculed the Arab mayors and local authority heads who signed onto the letter. “I didn’t know they were about to open a Talmud Torah [religious school] in Zarzir. Or in Umm al-Fahm,” he said.

The coalition agreements signed between UTJ and Likud would see existing education laws broadened to allow educational institutions that are unregulated by the Education Ministry, but nonetheless recognized by that body, to receive funding from local councils when they cover 55 percent of core state curriculum content — down from the current 75% threshold required to receive funding.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox girls on their way to school in a West Bank settlement, October 2009. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The letter said that asking local councils to increase funding for these educational institutions would “contradict the basic principle of non-involvement” between the unregulated schools and local councils.

“Recognition of unregulated institutions is done by the state, and therefore it is the state that must fund these institutions,” the letter continued. “We won’t agree to impose this huge funding task on local councils.”

The council heads complained that the country already suffers from a “huge shortage of classrooms in formal educational institutions,” and that officials have to find “creative solutions in order to provide buildings” for students to study in.

Among those who signed the letter were the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas; Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai; Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich; and the mayors of Haifa, Petah Tikva, Rishon Lezion and many other towns.

Ash Obel and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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