(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Two important events took place in the last couple of weeks. Operation Protective Edge came to an end – albeit with unclear results – and another school year began. The connection between these two events is not immediately evident, but it does exist.
Let’s start with education. The quality of education in Israel has been decidedly declining for years now.
According to OECD surveys, Israel is ranked close to last in the field of education. The reforms the Education Ministry tried to implement have not succeeded in generating any changes despite its relatively large budget.
Nevertheless, on September 1, the first day of the academic year, it was announced that the education budget would be slashed by NIS 700 million for this and subsequent years. Although all government ministries’ budgets, across the board, are suffering these serious cuts, education was hit the hardest, which is especially damaging to disadvantaged groups and children living in the periphery.
However, even before its budget was slashed, the Education Ministry had been absolutely incapable of implementing any systematic changes.
Achievement levels are falling, children are not being taught values, classrooms are small and cramped, violence has becoming rampant, teachers’ unions are run by corrupt power brokers for whom good education is not their main goal, new teachers are not of the highest quality and huge amounts of funding are being channeled to the haredi educational system to the detriment of the Arabic school system.
Education Minister Shai Peron is helpless against this deterioration and degradation. Just last week, TheMarker
published an interview with a well-known school principal who bemoaned the dire situation in which education is stuck, the rampant corruption, the low quality of teachers and students’ feelings of desperation.
The Defense Ministry, on the other hand, gobbles up at least 17 percent of the state’s resources – one of the highest rates in the world. This proportion has grown over the years despite all the efforts to reduce it, including peace agreements and promises to keep a small, lean army.
The defense budget is usually between NIS 45 billion and NIS 60b. per year, in addition to another $2.5b. in US aid. The combined budgets of all of the neighboring Arab countries don’t amount to this much. Only two countries in the region spend more than Israel on security: Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
These two countries, however, are wealthy and have great revenue from oil and tourism.
Each year, Israel ends up adding at least NIS 10b. for defense over the course of the 12-month period.
Every year at the beginning of discussions to approve the state budget, the government decides to cut the defense budget by NIS 3b. And yet by the time the budget is passed, not only have those NIS 3b. been put back in defense, but additional funding has somehow found its way into the Defense Ministry’s pockets. Every year the IDF threatens to put military operations and training on hold until its budget is approved. Every year the defense minister plays the same trick. And then, every two years on average, there’s a military operation that demands even more funding. The recent Operation Protective Edge is a perfect example.
Almost 8 percent of Israel’s GDP goes toward defense. It’s no wonder then that there’s no funding left over to invest in infrastructure, education, health and internal security as in other civilized countries around the world.
But this is just part of the problem. After Operation Protective Edge was concluded, the government was quick to advertise that it had begun an investigation into how the war was conducted. And lo and behold, the Knesset will be the body responsible for investigating how well the government functioned during the operation, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will determine how well security units functioned and the IDF will investigate IDF internal workings. How absurd is it that each organization will be in charge of investigating the people it’s already in charge of? If a finance minister cannot keep his promise to cut the defense budget or solve the deficit problem, then he needs to make cuts in other, more convenient areas. In this case, Finance Minister Yair Lapid made cuts in the fields of education, welfare and health since members of his own Yesh Atid Party are responsible for them and therefore it was harder for them to object.
The country is being run by aggressive administrators who are motivated by power and the temptation of controlling large amounts of money instead of by leaders who view education as a top priority. As the government is currently structured, politicians scratch each other’s backs instead of dealing with the public’s needs, such as improving education and assisting at-risk youth. The government has been making bad decisions for many years and instead of fixing them, it carries out internal “investigations” following which nothing is actually improved.
Today’s leaders have forgotten what is written in our Declaration of Independence – If education is poor quality, we will have no values. If we have no values, there will be no justice. And there is no justice.
We have no leadership and no vision. The good news, though, is that there is always room for change.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.