Pre-military academies team up to fight budget cuts

Pre-military academies, both religious and secular, have suffered a deep cut to their annual budget.

hesder soldier 88 (photo credit: )
hesder soldier 88
(photo credit: )
While engaged in a very public campaign to stigmatize draft dodging, the government is now cutting funding to one of the institutions most identified with improving army recruits' motivation. Pre-military academies, both religious and secular, have suffered a deep cut to their annual budget, and as the new academic year begins, many are having difficulties paying teachers' salaries. "If the cut - which amounts to a 25% decrease in our budget - is not reversed, it will endanger the entire future of pre-military academies," said Rabbi Moshe Hagar, Chairman of the Association of Pre-military Academies. Secular and religious academies have joined forces to fight the NIS 5 million cut in core funding and the freeze in budget adjustments designed to accommodate the yearly swelling of student ranks. Historically, both the National Religious Party and the National Union, two religious Zionist political parties, have annually shared NIS 4m. earmarked for religious education with the secular pre-military academies, said Hagar. "Now we hope Labor affilitated academies will reciprocate," added Hagar. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i (Labor) and MK Uri Ariel (NU/NRP) are both involved in negotiations with the Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry on the subject. "I find it hard to believe that the education and defense ministers, who command the largest budgets in the government, can't find between them a few million shekels for this important project," Ariel said Tuesday. Both prime minister aide Ovad Yehezkiel and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On promised to look into the issue in meetings today, he added. "But I do not expect the money to materialize in the next few days." An aide to Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Wednesday that the minister met last week with heads of the academies and expressed her support for their work. "However, recent budget cuts have hurt a long list of important education projects including financial aid to needy families and special education. Pre-military academies were not the only ones hit." Since 1999, when 1,100 students were enrolled in pre-military academies, the Education Ministry has faithfully provided the institutions with a minimum of NIS 20m. annually. In addition, the ministry has provided incrementally higher funding as the size of the student body has grown. But this year, funding was cut to NIS 15m. - 25 percent less than 1999 - while the number of students has grown by 50% to 1,700 in the past eight years. State funding makes up about half of the academies' total budget, with the other half generated by tuition and private donations. About 40% of the students belong to secular academies; the rest are enrolled in religious institutions. Both secular and religious institutions encourage their graduates to serve in combat units. Secular academies like Oranim, which belongs to the kibbutz movement and is named after assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, base their teachings on classic labor Zionism. In contrast, religious academies teach a mixture of Zionist ideology and modern Orthodox Jewish religious study. While the secular academies teach that military service is essential to the continued sovereignty and continuity of the Jewish people, the religious academies add the element of religious duty. Nevertheless, students at the religious academies are generally considered more religiously moderate than students at the hesder yeshivot, who combine a shortened military service with prolonged yeshiva education. For instance, hesder students have been the most visible in recent cases of insubordination on ideological or theological grounds, such as during the Gaza disengagement, when the IDF was involved in evacuating Jewish families from their homes. In contrast, heads of religious pre-military academies were among the most vocal opponents of insubordination.