Protest against closure of at-risk youth program: Don't destroy our home!

"This is nothing short of a disaster for a large group of children and at-risk youth, and of danger and damage that cannot be fixed."

Protest against closure of HILA educational program for drop-out students, August 19, 2020 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Protest against closure of HILA educational program for drop-out students, August 19, 2020
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Dozens of teachers, students, graduates and supporters of the HILA education program protested against the planned closure of the program and a large number of other programs for at-risk youth due to the ongoing budget crisis, in front of the government complex in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
Protesters chanted “Shame!” while holding signs stressing that they “would not give up” and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz to “stop fighting on our backs.” Other signs stressed that the HILA program is “a home – and you don’t destroy a home!”

The HILA teachers’ union warned that closing the program, which helps many at-risk youth, would risk leaving 8,000 students on the streets and 1,600 teachers without jobs. HILA has been providing education services since the 1980s for students aged 14-18 who have dropped out of school, functioning in 120 municipalities. The program aims to prepare students for the bagrut matriculation tests or for a diploma.
The union warned that this was the largest, but not last, act of protest by the teachers, students and graduates.
The Power to Workers union announced on Wednesday that if the budget crisis concerning the HILA program is not solved, then it will hold a general strike for the first week of September in all the unions connected to it, which include public transport companies, afternoon care centers, colleges and welfare and education institutions.
Hundreds of workers from the Karev program protested later in the day at Rabin Square as their program also faces closure. About 4,000 employees in the program are facing layoffs. The program provides services for over 300,000 students around the country.
Histadrut HAMAOF declared a labor dispute with a number of large cities and regional councils on Tuesday due to the budget crisis affecting the programs, meaning that within 14 days the union can take actions such as a strike.
Vered Windman, executive director of the Israel National Council for the Child, warned the Knesset Special Committee for the Rights of the Child on Sunday that the lack of a budget would lead to closure of a large number of programs for at-risk youth and children.
The budget crisis will also lead to the closure of hundreds of youth programs, including youth centers, child development units and early childhood centers, Windman said.
“This is nothing short of a disaster for a large group of children and at-risk youth, and of danger and damage that cannot be fixed,” she said.
Windman pointed to efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to save various programs and services for at-risk youth that faced difficulties and heavy demand during the coronavirus crisis.
In light of this, the council director stressed that “it is difficult to understand how such a decision was made, and it is not clear what the considerations were that led to this, when, for at least some of the children and teenagers, it means throwing them on the street.”
Windman stressed that these programs include services that the state is obligated to provide to minors under the Youth Law and regulations enacted under it.
“The conduct of the Finance Ministry is delusional and detached from reality, and it is taking the children and youth hostage,” said Windman in a statement on Monday.
The Education Ministry announced in July that the programs would be frozen due to the budget crisis and a lack of about NIS 4 billion needed for them. The ministry has stated that until a state budget is passed, it will not provide a budget for HILA.
A state budget may not be approved until as late as November, if an extension for then as the budget’s deadline is approved by the Knesset. Continued clashes between Blue and White and the Likud, as well as delays in the legislation of a budget extension, have raised concerns that Israel may be headed to elections, which could mean even further delays to the budget.
“The education minister insists on calling the HILA program ‘complementary’ education – education that is ‘separate’ or ‘different’ from regular education. The meaning is that in his eyes, a dropout student is not a regular student. In the eyes of the Education Ministry, they are extras that can be given up on,” said Telila Elon, a member of the teachers’ union on Tuesday.
Uri Yelovsky, a student in the HILA program, told the Knesset Special Committee for the Rights of the Child on Monday that he did not succeed in learning in a regular school, but that HILA had helped him succeed in completing his bagrut requirements.
“How am I different from a normal child studying in a normal setting?” asked Yelovsky. “Only I am being shut down. At the moment, I have nowhere to study next year. I am fighting for my bagrut. Why can a regular student submit a bagrut and I can’t? And I still have somewhere to go. What about children who will return to the streets?”
MORE THAN 24,620 people have signed an online petition calling on the government to prevent the closure of the youth advancement centers run by HILA around the country.
Many of the students in the program are at-risk youth or are there as an alternative to being detained. Teachers in the program fight to keep these students within the education system and help them succeed in completing the bagrut requirements and graduating.
“Just as I found a door to a place of learning that understands me, to a home, the government wants to slam the door of that home closed on me and 8,000 of my friends, and to throw us on the streets,” lamented Yossi Reese, a HILA student. “Don’t let this happen. Come fight with us for our home.”
In a letter signed by all of Israel’s mayors, Haim Bibas, chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel and mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut, warned on Tuesday that if the Finance Ministry does not approve a budget for afternoon childcare and additional classes and programs for at-risk youth, the school year will not begin on September 1.
“The Finance Ministry is not transferring funds and continues to bury its head in the sand. It thwarts our efforts to open the school year and give the public a real response,” wrote Bibas, stressing that if the budget is not approved, “We say in a clear voice – the school year will not open.”
Education Minister Yoav Gallant has repeatedly stated that the school year will begin on September 1.