ISRAEL – Church leaders in Israel have asked for an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the state failed to transfer 50 million shekels (about $13 million) to Christian schools as promised.
Church sources told Haaretz that a number of issues require Netanyahu’s intervention – first and foremost, the schools funding crisis and their status with regards to the Education Ministry.
Another issue that concerns the churches are visits to Israel by clerical delegations. “The sense among church leaders is that [there is] unexplained and unjustified foot-dragging and disrespect that stems from discrimination. We expect the prime minister to respond soon and set up a meeting,” a church source told Haaretz.
Last September, Christian schools went on strike for a month, keeping 33,000 students at home when the academic year opened. At the end of the dispute, the state promised the schools 50 million shekels – which they are still awaiting, church leaders said.
A committee has also been established to discuss relations between the schools and the Education Ministry.
The panel, headed by Prof. Shimshon Shoshani, recently submitted a number of recommendations to the ministry.
Last week, MKs from the Joint List released a statement noting that the Knesset Finance Committee was meant to have approved the transfer of the funds, but the item was removed from the panel’s agenda. Joint List MKs said they believed the funds had not been transferred because of a dispute between the treasury and the head of the Knesset Finance Committee, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism).
Meanwhile, the Social Equality Ministry published a call this week for Christian schools to submit funding requests. The executive committee of Christian schools said this request had not been published in coordination with them. They added that the wording was problematic, since it called on “official and recognized schools that are based on the values of the Christian faith” to submit applications for both formal and informal educational activities.
“According to this wording, the money is to be earmarked only for school activities according to the values of the Christian religion, and that does not match what was agreed upon 10 months ago,” a source on the executive committee said.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded that it does not release information about meetings before they occur.
The Social Equality Ministry said: “After many months where the money was not transferred to the Christian educational institutions, Minister Gila Gamliel and a team from the ministry were able to lead all parties to reach an agreement to allow the funding requests to be submitted. The criteria for receiving the support were determined after a number of meetings and were agreed on with the heads of the Christian community, the accountant general and representatives of the justice and education ministries.