Shas Party leader Eli Yishai on Monday leveled harsh criticism against Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, calling his statements made Sunday on haredi education “harmful” and “contemptible”.
Interior Minister Yishai told Israel Radio that haredi schools include mathematics and English in their curriculum and that there is no problem with the level of education given to pupils in the religious school system.
In a speech to an education conference on Sunday, Huldai said by funding haredi schools, Israel is supporting an entire sector of “aloof and ignorant people, who are growing at an alarming rate, and draining our social and economic strength.”
His seemed to call for civil unrest to counter the phenomenon, saying, “We need to fight this, maybe even revolt, in order to ensure that democracy prevails here.”
Yishai accused of Huldai of making his statements to further a potential nationwide political career, saying “not only does he have no idea [about the haredi education system] but he is trying to advance his political career by building on a foundation of hate.”
Yishai’s statements Monday echoed similar comments he made on Sunday, when in an official statement he said “The racism that Huldai displayed is not surprising. Huldai prefers foreign children to haredi children, and masks his racism with the face of academia.”
On Monday, Huldai denied that he has anything against education in the haredi community, telling Army Radio, “I don’t have anything against haredi education. I only have a problem with private education.”
Huldai added, “there is no other democracy in the world where the government funds private schools. If you want to fund a private school, you need to fund it yourself.”
Shahar Ilan, vice president of research and information for Hiddush, a group working to advance separation of church and state in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post
on Monday that he believes Huldai’s words were not isolated, but represent growing discontent among the Israeli public with the state’s funding of the haredi sector.
“The fact that two-thirds of haredi men do not work is becoming a very serious issue to people. Therefore, what Huldai said is not some isolated utterance, its part of a rising public discourse,” Ilan said.
Ilan said he believes that it is no coincidence that Huldai’s statements came after the recent publication of a report by the Taub Center, which stated that the economy of Israel faces an existential threat largely due to problems in the education system and in social inequality.
“I think that the publication of the report is leading to a very broad public discussion. The fury in the general public over the fact that the haredi public doesn’t serve in the army and doesn’t take part in the workforce are leading to a day when we could see a change in these policies,” Ilan said.
Ilan added that the fact that the statements came from the mayor of Tel Aviv, a city with a very small haredi population shows that Huldai was speaking not as a mayor, but as an Israeli worried about the future of his country.
“This problem will come to Tel Aviv last, but people in Tel Aviv are very aware of its effect on the country,” Ilan said.
Huldai’s statements also received support from Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), who said that “Huldai’s style isn’t what’s important, what’s important is the content of what he’s saying.
“In the past I warned that our leadership cannot allow itself to bury its head in the sand, in light of the fact that 50 percent of first-grade classes opened in Israel in the past six years belong to the non-Zionist education system.”
Religious Affairs Minister Yaakov Margi’s office would not comment on
the matter on Monday, but head of the Knesset Financial Committee MK
Moshe Gafni (UTJ) called Huldai “arrogant” and denied that Huldai and
others like him fund the haredi community.
“He shouldn’t lose his mind and say that he funds me, this arrogant
man,” Gafni told Army Radio, adding “who is he anyway? I fund him, he
doesn’t fund me.”
Gafni added that the private education system teaches all the same core
subjects as the public school systems, adding that he believes it is in
fact superior to the state system.
Also Monday, Kadima Party council head Haim Ramon proposed totally
exempting haredi youth from IDF service, to allow them to enter the
workforce at enlistment age.
Ramon reportedly told a Kadima Party conference that such an exemption
would encourage haredi youth to join the workforce and would free up
further state funds for the army.
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