Knesset okays cutting ministries’ funds, moving NIS 480 million for Haredi education

Panel cuts NIS 730 million to finance various projects, but most transferred to ultra-Orthodox schools; Lapid decries move as abuse of weakest parts of society

Young students learn in a classroom at the opening of the new school year in a school for ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys in Beit Shemesh, on August 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Young students learn in a classroom at the opening of the new school year in a school for ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys in Beit Shemesh, on August 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset’s Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a budget transfer of NIS 736 million ($193 million) from across government ministries, some NIS 480 million ($126 million) of which will be transferred to Haredi education.

According to a statement by the committee, the projects to be funded by the transfers also include the development of Druze and Circassian communities in northern Israel, early childhood education, and other education programs as part of “political agreements with budgetary significance.”

Additionally, the funds will be allocated to bomb shelters in Sderot and other Gaza border communities, reducing socio-economic gaps in East Jerusalem and the Arab community, and local Jewish cultural projects.

The transfer to ultra-Orthodox education was a partial fulfillment of coalition promises to ultra-Orthodox parties to infuse their educational systems with cash.

The funds came from an across-the-board cut to government agencies and public services. Among the affected budgets were a NIS 327,000 ($85,000) cut to funds assisting Holocaust survivors, an NIS 22 million ($5.8 million) cut to childcare subsidies, an NIS 18 million ($4.7 million) cut to disabled care, and a NIS 32 million ($8.4 million) cut to Education Ministry auxiliary resources.

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, who chairs the Finance Committee, said that the transfer is part of his vision to increase funding for ultra-Orthodox schools, whose content is largely unregulated by the Education Ministry and which are not required to teach core curriculum subjects.

File: Head of the Knesset Finance Committee MK Moshe Gafni leads a meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on August 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are making every effort to correct the injustice that has accumulated over the years in the lack of funding for Torah education and Torah institutions,” Gafni said.

“This is the first mission that was carried out in accordance with the coalition agreements, and I hope that we will continue, with God’s help, to fill in all the gaps that have harmed the ultra-Orthodox public,” he added.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, chair of the Yesh Atid party, slammed the government for “abusing the weakest citizens and crushing the middle class.”

The government “needs to fall before the damage becomes irreversible,” he wrote in a statement.

The 2023-2024 state budget, passed in May, includes NIS 13.7 billion ($3.5 billion) in discretionary spending, NIS 3.7 billion ($970 million) of which was allocated for increasing the budget for stipends for full-time yeshiva students.

Another NIS 1.2 billion ($315 million) is budgeted for private, non-supervised Haredi educational institutions, many of which do not teach core subjects such as math and English, while additional funds will go to the official Haredi education system, and for the construction of buildings for religious purposes and supporting Haredi culture and identity.

The budget also expands stipends to yeshiva students to the tune of up to NIS 250 million ($68 million), using any surplus funds left over from ultra-Orthodox schools.

The budget has been denounced by the opposition as “reckless,” while Treasury officials warned it could lead to lost gross domestic product in the coming years.

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