Background: A dispute with deep roots

Amnon Dehartuch has been the bete noir of the Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah parties and their supporters in the haredi media for many years. Dehartuch is responsible in the Justice Ministry for the issue of government funding to private groups, including haredi non-profit organizations and non-state haredi schools, including the Independent education system run by Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah and Shas's Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani. The latest spat between the leaders of the haredi parties and their nemesis occurred during three meetings of the Knesset Education Committee to consider a bill ordering local authorities to start paying the non-state recognized schools, which include the Independent school system and Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani, 75 percent of what they pay state secular and state religious schools. This funding, which accounts for about 20 percent of all the school expenses (the rest is financed by the ministry of education,) pays for non-academic items including school secretaries, janitors, water and electricity. The bill was sponsored by Degel Hatorah MKs Moshe Gafni and Avraham Ravitz. During a meeting on April 25, Gafni demanded that Dehartuch be prohibited from attending because he was allegedly involved in a conflict of interests. According to Gafni's allegation, several years before, Dehartuch, whose children attended a state religious school in Ramot, had petitioned the High Court of Justice against a school belonging to the Independent school system in the neighborhood. Gafni accused Dehartuch of being an enemy of the Independent school system. Also during the meeting, Gafni told Dehartuch he had laid down "stupid guidelines" for a government bill dealing with the question of local funding for the haredi school systems, which was not to his liking. As a result of the attacks on Dehartuch, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) of the Progressive Movement filed a complaint to the Knesset Ethics Committee against Gafni. Attorney Gilad Kariv charged that during the Education Committee meeting, Gafni's attacks had "turned into an intolerable campaign of personal and family assaults and vulgar expressions bordering on verbal violence." On May 15, IRAC also sent letters of complaint to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. Mazuz replied that he was aware of the attacks and regretted them. He said he had asked Gafni to stop lashing out at Dehartuch "but so far without success." He said the phenomenon should be "utterly condemned." In his response to IRAC's complaint to the Ethics Committee, Gafni wrote that there were clear red lines in the way an MK could treat a civil servant, and that he had not crossed them. He added that the dispute between the two was over an objective issue and not a personal one. On July 3, the committee rejected the complaint. The quarrel between the haredi MKs and Dehartuch goes much farther back than the latest dispute between them. Last year, for example, IRAC petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Education Ministry's policy of funding school transportation for children, charging that it discriminated against the state schools by using different criteria for determining which children should be subsidized in the state and the haredi systems. The petitioners charged that the ministry did not subsidize transportation for children in state schools if there was a similar school within about three kilometers of their home, whereas it automatically funded children in haredi recognized schools even if there was a similar school within that distance. Under Dehartuch's guidelines, the state did not contest the petition, and it was upheld by the court.