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Religious-Zionist Schools Won't Strike

The religious-Zionist school strike set for Sunday has been called off; “only” 11 million shekels will be cut, instead of 86.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/11/2009, 10:38 AM / Last Update: 11/11/2009, 10:43 AM

The strike scheduled for Sunday in the religious-Zionist school system has been called off, after an agreement to cut “only” 11 million shekels ($2.9 million) instead of 86 million shekels $22.7 million).

Overnight consultations on Tuesday the night between Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Education Minister Gideon Saar, Coalition whip MK Zev Elkin, and the head of the Prime Minister’s Bureau, Eyal Gabbai led to the agreement. Word of the developing accord was first reported on Arutz-7’s Hebrew site on Monday.

The planned 86-million shekel budget cut will be mostly restored, in the form of 75 million shekels from the Education and Finance ministries, as well as from the Prime Minister’s Bureau. The last-mentioned took over the responsibilities of the now-defunct Religious Affairs Ministry several years ago.

Calls to Include Funding in National Budget
The Religious Education Forum officially announced on Wednesday morning that the strike was off, and called on the Prime Minister to "fulfill his promise and include the religious education funding in the basic national budget, as is appropriate for an educational system that strengthens Jewish identity amidst Israeli society." 

A similar budget crisis with the National Service girls was averted last month, when 44 million shekels were “found” to keep the program going.

Still Missing: 11 Million Shekels
Several days ago, Jewish Home party chairman Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herskovitz told Arutz-7 that a solution was still being sought for the missing 11 million shekels. It now appears that one will not be found.

The religious-education budget cuts of the past few years have gravely hampered the running of yeshiva high schools, ulpanot (girls’ high schools), hesder yeshivot, girls’ medrashot, post-high school yeshivot, Torah core groups in development towns, seminars for Judaism and Land of Israel studies, centers for basic Jewish-Zionist education, and more - all of which were to have taken part in the strike.

History of Decreasing Funding
Until 2004, the religious-Zionist schools received funding from both the Education and Religious Affairs Ministries, totaling 280 million shekels. This sum dropped sharply in 2005 to only 150 million shekels – but, following protests and pro-active politicking, 47 million shekels were added to the religious education budget.

In 2006, however, the 47 million was not allocated, leading to a one-day strike – and the restoration of the 47 million. The next two years saw cuts totaling 17 million shekels, leaving a budget of 180 million shekels - from which the government now wished to cut a full third, or 60 million shekels, leading to the strike threat.

The resolution of the crisis leaves the public-religious system with a budget of 169 million shekels – 40 percent less than five years ago – leaving parents to pick up the tab.

“If the money that was cut is not restored,” Herskovitz said earlier this week, “the strike will not be a protest, but rather a simple matter of being unable to work without money. It’s a situation of ‘to be or not to be.’”