Jonathan Snowbell is not, in his own words, a man who "takes shortcuts." A 30-year-old native of Toronto, he worked hard to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's in Jewish education, both from Yeshiva University. After moving to Israel in 1998, he served in an IDF infantry unit and was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate.
Yet, like other graduates of YU, Snowbell - who officially made aliya in 2001 and is a teacher of Jewish studies at the Himmelfarb High School in Jerusalem - has fallen victim to a bureaucratic peculiarity that prevents him from being financially compensated for his government-funded teaching position in accordance with his academic rank.
The ranking of YU graduates employed by the Israeli government was the subject of a heated debate Monday at the Knesset's Education Committee, which was attended by YU President Richard Joel, among others.
The governmental body responsible for evaluating foreign academic degrees and diplomas for the purpose of determining the salaries of government employees currently operates according to criteria established in 2003 by an inter-ministerial committee. According to these criteria, foreign bachelors' degrees will be recognized by the Israeli government only if their holders received no more than 20 academic credits for non-academic courses taken during their period of enrollment. Moreover, accreditation for such courses will only be recognized if the student had at least ten years of prior professional experience in the field of non-academic study in question.
Every year, some 800 YU college students come to study in Israel at various non-academic educational and religious institutions, for which they receive up to 32 credits from their university. As a result, their bachelors' degrees - and any advanced degrees they later earned - are not recognized by the government body for academic degree and diploma evaluation. Although their degrees are recognized by every Israeli and American university, those holding government-paid jobs are not financially compensated in accordance with their academic rank.
Snowball, for instance, is ranked as a high school graduate, despite his master's degree in education.
"This situation is a scandal that is preventing immigration and absorption," said Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (Labor).
According to Joel, YU has sent more immigrants to Israel than any other university in the world. "This issue is critical to the future of Israel," he said.
It was inconceivable, Joel said, that a study-abroad program recognized by the US higher education commission be unaccredited by the Israeli government, and that degrees from a highly-regarded academic institution recognized by the world's greatest universities, as well as by all Israeli universities, be unrecognized for salary-related purposes.
Furthermore, Joel said, it was absurd that students at the only university in the world that considers its affiliation with Israel one of its founding principles, and who annually come to study here because of this affiliation, be penalized and impeded from earning the salaries they deserved after making aliya.
"It's outrageous to hold them hostage to this issue," Joel said.
The government status of YU degrees was already debated during the tenure of former education minister Limor Livnat, who last year issued a letter demanding that the degrees of graduates who appealed to the ministry be recognized immediately. While Livnat's demand was met on an individual basis, it did not result in a change of policy.
Representatives of the government evaluation body and of the affiliated interministerial committee present at the Education Committee meeting remained adamant about the validity of their current qualification criteria.
Members of the Education Committee, however, demanded that they reconsider their position.
"This is not a bureaucratic issue," said MK Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP). "This is a question of policy, and it is unacceptable that 800 students a year should be penalized for wanting to study in Israel. The government does not understand the harmful effect of these criteria on the Jewish and Zionist cause."
Melchior ordered the government evaluation body to return to the committee within one month with a viable suggestion for resolving the issue.
"I don't feel like we've reached an impasse, but we won't be patient," Joel told The Jerusalem Post following the committee meeting. "We have wonderful graduates trying to contribute to the state and being blocked by bureaucratic nonsense."