Israeli funding for yeshivot, private haredi schools to rise

Israel's political "coalition funding" includes controversial clauses, such as for strengthening Jewish identity.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX STUDENTS study at Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ULTRA-ORTHODOX STUDENTS study at Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel's coalition is likely to rise by 31% the funding for yeshivot and haredi private school systems that do not teach core studies such as English or mathematics, according to a draft of the "coalition funding" that will accompany the national budget.

The funds include a sum total of approximately NIS 1.35 billion for fully or semi-private haredi schools over the years 2023-2024, and another NIS 2.5 billion for ultra-orthodox study academies (yeshivot), according to an analysis of the draft, published by Tal Elovits and Aviad Huminer-Rosenblum of the Berl Katznelson Fund.

Added together, the funds constitute a 31% rise compared to the 2021-2022 budget that was passed by the previous government, according to the analysis.

Coalition funds are budgetary funds that are not part of the official budget of any government ministry. The funds are intended to enable political agreements that have budgetary significance. Unlike the rest of the budget, these funds are flexible and can be redirected with relative ease, as they require a cabinet decision but not an amendment to the actual Budget Law.

What else is in the coalition funds?

The coalition funds are expected to reach NIS 12.5 billion, according to the draft. This is far more than the previous government's NIS 2.1 billion.

 MK Orit Struk attends a protest against the demolition of structures in the illegal outpost of Homesh, outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on January 9, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK Orit Struk attends a protest against the demolition of structures in the illegal outpost of Homesh, outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on January 9, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The draft includes the funding of a large number of other plans and institutions to a number of ministries, chiefly among them the National Missions Ministry led by Orit Struck (Religious Zionist Party), the Development of the Negev and Galilee and National Resilience Ministry led by Yizhak Wasserlauf (Otzma Yehudit), projects within the Education Ministry connected to religious-Zionist and haredi institutions, and the Religious Services Ministry led by Michael Malkieli (Shas).

Other than the funds for the haredi private schools and yeshivot mentioned above, notable clauses include NIS 5 million for a "basket of incentives to encourage positive immigration to mixed [Jewish-Arab] cities"; NIS 135 million for "strengthening Jewish identity"; and NIS 202 million for the "Settlements Division, an independent unit within the World Zionist Organization that advances settlement in the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Negev and the Galilee.

Coalition speaks out against criticism

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich addressed criticism over the steep increase in coalition funds. In a press conference ahead of his party's weekly meeting on Monday, he said that he "stood fully behind the coalition funds."

"We live in a democratic system – some of the clauses I agree with, and some I must do out of political necessity. The only difference is that the media that embraced the previous government is giving hell to this government in order to topple it – and this will not work."

The finance minister added that "the previous government gave NIS 53 billion to [Ra'am chairman] Mansour Abbas and his friends, and the media clapped because it was a 'fixing of discrimination." The current funds to haredi institutions also fixed "a long period of discrimination and an ongoing injustice."

The Likud responded to the criticism in similar fashion, saying in a statement, "As opposed to the previous government, we did not give NIS 50 billion to the Muslim Brotherhood without oversight, instead we equaled the basic education conditions of haredi, secular and religious children."

The claim about the NIS 50 billion to Ra'am is misleading, as it includes funds related to a number of separate projects in the Arab sector, including a NIS 30 billion five-year plan that had oversight, a separate NIS 1.5 billion plan to fight crime, and more.

The claim about equalling haredi education is also misleading. The law requires that private haredi schools receive 55% or 75% (depending on two different categories of school systems) of state funding per student that a public-school student receives. However, the state in the past 20 years signed a number of salary agreements with teachers' unions that increased funding for state schools based on certain pedagogical criteria. These agreements were not offered to the haredi school systems, and thus the current situation is that the de-facto funding of private haredi schools is indeed below 30%. However, the current coalition funds will raise the private school systems to 55% of what state schools receive today – but without demanding the same criteria.

Opposition MKs criticized the size and allotment of the coalition funds.

"What is happening over the last day is quite simply the payment of political money with menaces," Labor Party leader MK Merav Michaeli said at a Knesset faction meeting on Monday. "We are all of us paying over 12 billion shekels that Netanyahu and the Likud are going to spend to build a Halacha state instead of the State of Israel."

"What we are talking about is bribes to the ultra-Orthodox, bribes to the settlers, bribes to the extreme and dangerous Messianic right that endangers Israel," Michaeli added.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman and former finance minister MK Avigdor Liberman accused Netanyahu and Smotrich of leading towards the "destruction" of Israel's economy.

"In the budget that was placed before the Knesset there is no hint of a plan to decrease inequality in Israeli society, there is no serious plan to promote hi-tech and science, and there is no answer for the high cost of living, which is rising every day," Liberman said.

"All the budget has is the encouragement of idleness, and billions going to educational institutions that do not teach core studies, yeshiva students and draft-dodgers," he said.