'Gafni bill' to increase haredi school funding passes first reading in stormy session

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) dragged out of the hall by guards as he called out in defense of the bill that bears his name.

ronit tirosh 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
ronit tirosh 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) exchanged sharp words Wednesday afternoon in the Knesset, as a result of which Gafni was dragged out of the hall by guards as he called out in defense of the bill that bears his name. The so-called Gafni bill, which seeks to require local authorities to provide full funding for most haredi schools, rather than the current 75%, passed its first reading in the plenum Wednesday by a vote of 39-25, with one abstention. The Gafni bill has become one of the most hotly debated pieces of legislation after the budget and the economic arrangements bill, with opposition MKs attempting to one-up each other by condemning it with stronger language. Tirosh reiterated her promise Wednesday that, should the bill pass its second and third readings - which is expected - she would petition the High Court of Justice. The legislation would require local authorities to provide 100% funding for services to the two major haredi school systems, Hinuch Atzma'i and Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani - up from the 75% established by the 2007 Nahari Law - even though these schools do not fulfill all the course requirements of state schools. Tirosh said that the content was only one of the justifications to block complete funding for the schools. Her second claim was that the schools - particularly those run by Agudat Yisrael - do not conform to government standards prohibiting discrimination on the basis of ethnic background. Tirosh also complained that Gafni's bill would increase support for haredi schools while non-haredi private schools - including Christian schools, "democratic" schools and others in the same category - would remain without assurances of any local funds. It was when Tirosh took the podium, after the vote, that the fur began to fly, as Gafni yelled out to the Kadima MK that she needed to "learn about Judaism" and that she should be "ashamed." Deputy Knesset Speaker Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) called him repeatedly to order, but when he continued, she asked the ushers to remove him from the floor. Gafni, on the way out, turned back to get the final word in, at which point the ushers led the diminutive MK by both arms out of the plenum. "This is the destruction of state education," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) after the vote. "This law will be the mark of Cain on the education minister's forehead." Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar spoke Wednesday prior to the vote in favor of the bill, explaining that it sought to preserve a precedent - in place since the early Nineties - that these two haredi streams were entitled to privileges and funding beyond those given to other recognized non-governmental schools. "In 20 years, Israel will become a halacha-based state. The government surrendered to political blackmail by Gafni," Paz-Pines said. Gafni chairs the Knesset Finance Committee, through which the budget and most of the economic arrangements bill, which must be passed in the coming weeks, have pass before they can come to the Knesset for their final readings.