Government ministers on Sunday voted to repeal legislation that required Israel’s ultra-Orthodox schools to teach core curriculum subjects such as English, math and science as a precondition for state funding, as Haredi lawmakers in the governing coalition rolled back a recent reform that was anathema to their community.
Clause 10a in the Compulsory Education Law was amended as part of the coalition agreement reached with ultra-Orthodox faction United Torah Judaism after the 2015 Knesset elections.
Instead of requiring the Haredi schools to teach 10 to 11 hours per week of secular studies, the law now gives Education Minister Naftali Bennett the discretion to fund schools that choose not to teach core subjects.
The curriculum law was introduced by the centrist Yesh Atid party in 2013 when it was a key member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous government. It was slated to go into effect in 2018.
In an about-face by Bennett, who had supported the Yesh Atid law, the Education Ministry last week submitted the amended legislation to the Knesset for a vote.
During the vote by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation Sunday afternoon, Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis walked out of the plenum in protest, saying that repealing the core curriculum requirement was “a mistake.”
“I am in favor of all Israeli children learning English, math, and science. This is the right thing to do, and will ensure this country’s future as a world leader in innovation.”
The bill must still go through the full Knesset before becoming law.
Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid also criticized the amendment as “damaging” to the future of an entire generation of Israeli children.
“The government is taking away an entire generation’s ability to provide for themselves,” Lapid said. “It would be one thing if they didn’t realize the damage they are causing, but every member of this government understands that they are selling out our children,” he added. “They just don’t care, it’s all politics.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) slammed Netanyahu and Bennett for their “embarrassing abandonment of their responsibilities, which sets us back even further.”
Some 40,000-50,000 of Israel’s 440,000 ultra-Orthodox students (approximately 1.8 percent of all Israeli students) study in schools that teach the absolute minimum of math and English required by the ministry. Currently, these institutions receive only 55% of the amount of funding disbursed to schools that comply fully with the curricula requirements.
While ultra-Orthodox girls schools do offer math and English classes through high school, many of the parallel boys schools, which emphasize strict Torah study and oppose secular academic education, stop at sixth grade or below.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.