Continuing his feud with the ultra-Orthodox parties, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that there was no reason to fund Haredi Torah institutions that teach “idleness.”
Addressing a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset, Liberman said that institutions that refuse to teach core subjects, such as English and math, can “do it at your expense, not that of taxpayers.”
“They sit there at the kollelim [where Talmud is studied], they come in the morning, eat a sandwich, drink coffee and talk politics, peruse some books, and go home. Idleness studies are not holy studies,” said Liberman.
Threatening ultra-Orthodox access to funding, Liberman said that he would not dispense NIS 446 million ($133.5 million) in discretionary coalition funds to the ultra-Orthodox parties.
“You can’t have it both ways — both criticizing the coalition and demanding funds,” Liberman said.
Many ultra-Orthodox communities shun core curriculum subjects at their schools, saying instead that education should focus only on Torah studies.
However, a growing trend in Israel has seen more and more Haredim seeking to enter the job market, which they are unable to do without learning secular subjects.
With the community continuing to grow at a rapid pace, compared to its secular counterpart, many officials have warned that the economy will face increasing strain unless Haredim are able to get an education and enter the job market.
The proposed budget cut joins other Finance Ministry reforms aimed at getting more Haredim into the workforce.
In February, Liberman said he intended to halve the number of hours that ultra-Orthodox men must spend in study in order to qualify for state stipends – from 40 weekly hours to 20 – freeing up their time to join the workforce.
He said the idea was to provide “positive incentives” to encourage more ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women to find jobs.
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party has long been critical of ultra-Orthodox influence in Israeli civic life. The Russian-born politician is seen as a key foe of the Haredi parties.
The ultra-Orthodox parties have largely backed former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years. The factions vowed on Monday to vote with the rest of the opposition against any government-backed legislation, in an attempt to bring down the current, fragile ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Likud MK Israel Katz, a former finance minister, accused Liberman of antisemitism for his remarks about the ultra-Orthodox.
“He’s acting like the greatest antisemites in history, who said in a time of crisis, ‘Hit the Jews and save the homeland,'” said Katz.