Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron sought on Tuesday to dispel reports that he and Finance Minister Yair Lapid had caved in to Shas and cancelled the planned cuts in the budget of its network of schools, "El Hamaayan".
Writing on his Facebook page, Piron said that a simple telephone conversation between him and Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri had turned into a media storm.
"Many changes occurred last night in hareidi-religious education: schools that do not teach core subjects will be budgeted at only 35% (along with transition programs that allow studying of the core curriculum without damaging the hareidi way of life),” he wrote, adding that one of the conditions for a hareidi school to receive state funding is that it hold standardized tests. This coming year, said Piron, a network of state-funded public hareidi schools will be established.
He stressed that the Ministry of Education intends to adjust the funding of hareidi-religious schools so that it is similar to the funding received by other schools. “Why should they receive 100% funding even though they are non-state schools? In professional language this is called an amendment to section '9-3-aleph'. But then we found out that there is a legal problem. We cannot do it now. We need to take preliminary steps. So why purposely cut it?! We consulted and decided to delay the amendment,” explained Piron.
"The Finance Minister asked me to inform the Shas chairman of the delay,” he continued. “Why? Because this clause bothered him and members of all the other religious parties as well. I innocently called Aryeh [Deri]. I told him about the decision and even released a detailed statement. A conversation which lasted four minutes. No agreement, no discussion, no argument. A relaxed conversation, providing information. Just to prevent unnecessary hate ... So I told Aryeh and suddenly - the sky is falling. ‘Surrender’, ‘agreement’, ‘benefits for Shas.’”
Minister Piron added, "The strange part in this story is that I held briefings with some members of the press and explained that the background to the postponement is a legal one, a lacuna. But it did not help me, because a legal issue - it is not ‘bloody’ enough. It doesn’t have emotions, it doesn’t ‘sell’. Last night was an historical night. There is a chance that we began laying the foundations for state-funded hareidi education that will be a keystone connection between the sectors and communities in Israel. But why let a spirit of renewal and hope be infused when you can earn a little more hatred?” It is far from certain that the hareidi religious see this step as renewal and hope.
On Tuesday morning, Lapid accused Deri of lying in the aftermath of the budget vote in the Cabinet.
Deri had presented the last-minute decision by Lapid to postpone the cut as a victory by the Sephardic-hareidi Shas over Lapid.
Lapid told his Facebook followers that when he decided to postpone the cancellation of the funds to the El Haamayan educational network, he instructed Piron to inform Deri of the decision. Deri then "took us for a ride and told the media that we had surrendered to him and cancelled the cut to El Hamaayan," he said.
"The truth is, I can't understand him," Lapid added. "Not only is this a clear lie, he has also prevented the possibility that we will ever try to cooperate with him on matters that are important to his sector."