Christian education at risk of dying out in Israel, say students and teachers


Students and teachers at Catholic and other Christian schools in Israel have been protesting this week in calls for an end to discrimination in education budgets. They have warned that Christian education is at risk of dying out in Israel if more funds are not allocated to support the schools, which already receive $1,030 a year per student from parents.

Catholic leaders in Israel are urging Pope Francis to lobby the Israeli government on their behalf.

Awni Bathish, a protester representing the schools, told Haaretz: "Our situation is untenable, and we can't go into the parents' pockets, because many parents come from a low socioeconomic class."

The Christian education system in Israel is recognised, but not officially, meaning they are are not part of the official state school system and have been subject in recent years to cuts introduced by the Education Ministry.

Currently the schools receive 75 per cent of their funding from the ministry. Most pupils in Christian schools are Arab-Israelis including some Muslims. There are 47 church-run schools in Israel, with 3,000 teachers and 30,000 children. Some of the schools have been in existence since before the founding of Israel.

The Education Ministry told Haaretz the Christian schools had rejected every proposal it had made. The ministry has invited the Christian schools to join the state system, which would give them a budget allocation of 100 per cent while preserving their special characteristics.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the National Secular Society has called on the Department for Education to investigate after a driving ban was imposed on mothers by two independent Orthodox Jewish schools. A ruling by the rabbinate of the Orthodox Jewish Belz community has banned women from driving because it violates "the traditional rules of modesty" in the faith.

The Belz community runs two north London schools, Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass, with 444 boys and Beis Malka, with 135 girls, both rated "good" by Ofsted.

The Jewish Chronicle revealed this week a letter in which the Belz rabbinate ruled that from August, pupils will not be able to get into school if driven there by their mothers.

Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, said he found the ban "repellent" and warned that it will have "profound implications" if enforced.

The National Secular Society campaigns manager, Stephen Evans, said: "We trust the DfE will ensure that no child is ostracised or has their education disrupted on the basis of a misogynistic diktat handed down by religious leaders. We have written to the DfE asking it to investigate whether these schools are being run by fit and proper persons, whether they are in breach of Independent School Standards by undermining the fundamental value of individual liberty and whether any discrimination has occurred contrary to Equality Act 2010."

Maidenhead rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain condemned the ban on women drivers. He said: "This is not only astonishingly repressive but is totally alien to Jewish values. Women are fully equal to men . Denying them the right to drive implies they are not, and, if allowed to stand, will be followed by other prohibitions until they are reduced to the status of underlings. This return to a medieval misogynist mindset needs to be shamed out of existence, and certainly does not represent mainstream Judaism".