Christian activists protests outside Bennett’s residence to restore cut school budgets

On Saturday, Christian protesters staged demonstration outside house of Finance Minister Kahlon in Haifa demanding he find money to restore previous levels of funding.

Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett
Hundreds of Christian activists demonstrated outside Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s residence in Ra’anana on Tuesday night, the latest in a series of ongoing protests against cuts that have been made to the network of Christian schools in Israel.
There are 47 such schools, teaching 33,000 pupils, and all have been on strike since the beginning of the school year due to the severe decline in state funding they have faced in recent years.
MKs Esawi Frej (Meretz) and Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) were at the demonstration.
On Saturday evening, Christian protesters staged a demonstration outside Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s house in Haifa demanding that he find money to restore the previous levels of funding. On Sunday, protesters gathered at Alonim junction, just west of Nazareth, and approximately 3,500 people demonstrated in Jerusalem the Sunday prior.
A delegation of 39 bishops from the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe has been in Israel since September 11 for its plenary assembly and they were also made aware of the struggle by the Christian community for the restoration of the schools’ funding to previous levels.
Bennett did not leave his residence to speak with the protesters.
The Christian schools are categorized as “Recognized but Unofficial,” meaning they are entitled to 75 percent of the funding that fully staterun schools receive.
The Secretariat of Christian Schools says however that the Education Ministry has consistently reduced the standard number of allocated teaching hours in the Christian sector from 1.1 hours per student in the 2003/2004 school year to 0.66 hours per student for the current year.
Although the ministry is still paying for 75% of those taught hours the reduction in allocated hours means that the total funding for Christian schools has declined to between 29% and 34%, according to the secretariat.
Christian schools achieve some of the best results of all schools in the country, with 69% of Christian pupils matriculating from high school compared to 61% in the Jewish sector and 50% in the Muslim sector, according to the Central Bureau for Statistics.
Wadie Abunassar, an informal spokesman for the Catholic Church in Israel, said he was baffled at how there was room in the budget for a recent tax cut on beer but not for restoring funds to Christian schools, especially in light of recent increases to the budget of the Education Ministry itself.
“I was expecting the government to reward our schools for their great contribution to the society,” continued Abunassar.
“It is astonishing that budget cuts have been made for our schools while the budget of the Education Ministry has grown to approximately NIS 40 billion.”
During a meeting last week between government officials and the Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel, the Education Ministry offered to restore approximately 5% of the funds cut in recent years, an offer the secretariat rejected.
Christian leaders and clergy are considering closing down Christian holy sites in Israel to foreign tourists if no improved offer is made, in order to increase pressure on the government.