The High Court of Justice on Wednesday ruled that the state cannot cut daycare subsidies for the children of full-time yeshiva students in the middle of an academic year, torpedoing a plan by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The ruling was welcomed by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and the coalition whip, but lamented by Liberman, who said it was regrettable.
Liberman announced the controversial move in July, drawing furious criticism from ultra-Orthodox politicians. Liberman has sought to dampen ultra-Orthodox parties’ political influence and end special government benefits enjoyed by their voters while encouraging members of the community to find jobs.
However, the implementation of the plan was put off first till November, and then again till January — after the current school year began on September 1.
Responding Wednesday to a petition against the move, justices ruled that the decision to not allow a grace period of a year before the subsidies were cut “does not strike an appropriate and informed balance between the relevant interests under the circumstances, and is therefore unreasonable.”
Liberman criticized the ruling, saying it would cause damage to “the citizens of Israel who serve in the army, workers who pay taxes.”
The finance minister vowed to continue “with all our might to integrate all the country’s citizens into the workforce.”
But coalition whip MK Idit Silman of the ruling Yamina party, herself Orthodox, welcomed the ruling and said that “intensive” negotiations on the matter in recent months will continue from a position of “understanding the importance and value of Torah study and out of a desire to keep young families out of the cycle of poverty.”
Opposition lawmaker MK Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party said the judges “understood that Liberman’s wickedness against the yeshiva students’ children is inappropriate and should be rejected.”
Fellow UTJ party member MK Ya’akov Asher tweeted that “even the High Court justices realized that Liberman’s brutal move against ultra-Orthodox mothers did not stand up to any legal or logical scrutiny.”
Liberman is seeking to end subsidies for around 18,000 households, most of them ultra-Orthodox.
In total, daycare subsidies are estimated to cost the state NIS 1.2 billion ($366 million) annually, of which about a third goes to families in which the father studies full-time at a yeshiva.
The new conditions for receiving daycare subsidies for kids up to age 3 will effectively end them for some 21,000 children whose fathers are full-time yeshiva students.
The finance minister has said the subsidies would henceforth be granted only if both the child’s parents work at least 24 hours a week or are involved in academic or vocational studies — but not Torah studies.
Ultra-Orthodox opposition lawmakers denounced the plan following its unveiling, with Shas party leader Aryeh Deri calling the step “destructive and wicked” and designed “to hurt families with many children simply because they are Haredi.”
United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni called Liberman “evil,” while Litzman, at the time, accused the treasury chief of acting out of “revulsion and hatred” toward Torah students.
Liberman in July ordered that NIS 55 million ($17 million) of the money allocated to those subsidies be immediately diverted to efforts to prevent and treat the issue of domestic violence, but that move has also been delayed.