Gafni: Zionist Yeshivas Need to be 'Cut to Size'

Knesset Oversight Committee to discuss a complaint by MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ), urging the gov't to cut funding to Religious Zionist yeshivas.

Tags: yeshivas Gafni
David Lev and Ari Soffer ,

MK Moshe Gafni
MK Moshe Gafni
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Knesset Oversight Committee on Tuesday will discuss a complaint filed by hareidi MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ), which claims that the government is discriminating against yeshivas (Torah academies) affiliated with the hareidi-religious community, for the benefit of Religious Zionist yeshivas. 

The discrimination ran the gamut of funding for these institutions, from budget allocations for administrators to stipends provided to full-time students, Gafni said.

MK Amnon Cohen, of the Sephardic-hareidi Shas party and chairman of the Committee, said that he had looked over Gafni's complaint, and that the facts bore it out. Cohen blamed the situation on the Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties. 

The Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) party is associated with the Religious Zionist stream, and has faced a stream of attacks by hareidi parties for its stances on a number of issues, including the enlistment of yeshiva students, which is opposed by hareidi parties. Jewish Home's decision to enter a coalition with the secularist Yesh Atid party has been a source of contention with hareidi leaders, despite the latter having themselves worked with secular parties in the past.

Gafni's official complaint followed comments made on Sunday in which he railed against Religious Zionist Torah institutions, and called on their funding to be cut.

“Yesh Atid promised us 'clean' politics, but instead we get the old kind of politics, full of discrimination, ignoring the law, and unfairness,” said Cohen, lamenting efforts by the party, which controls the Finance Ministry, to cut funding to yeshivas which don't encourage national service. “Learning Torah is the breath of life of Jewish society, and any cuts in funding for Torah study damages our national identity.”

Gafni's complaint, however, is directed not at the under-funding of hareidi yeshivas, but at what he claimed was the over-funding of Religious Zionist institutions – and he demands that funding for the learning of Torah in those institutions be cut.

As an example, Gafni pointed to a revised schedule of payments to students, effective November 1. Single students in a hareidi-oriented yeshiva were granted NIS 240 a month, while married students received NIS 432 a month. A student in a Religious Zionist yeshiva that is listed by the state as one that encourages students to join the IDF receives NIS 864 a month.

In addition, he said, Religious Zionist yeshivas received much more administrative per student. While yeshivas in both communities received NIS 672 per student, additional grants brought the total per student in Religious Zionist yeshivas up to NIS 1,212 per month, per student. According to Gafni, the Religious Zionist yeshivas are receiving that extra money illegally.

Gafni further alleged that Religious Zionist 'hesder' yeshivas - which combine intensive Torah study with military service - were receiving extra money for their students, even though they were essentially operating in the same manner as hareidi yeshivas. Gafni said that the Religious Zionist yeshivas were receiving even more administrative payments per student for the entire five year period that students were enrolled, even though students only served in the IDF for sixteen months.

With this payment, he said, the Religious Zionist yeshivas were receiving a total of NIS 1,650 per student each month, almost three times the amount hareidi yeshivas received in administrative payments – even though students in the Religious Zionist yeshivas were not in the army most of the time.

The hesder yeshivas, he said, receive funding from both the Defense and Education Ministry, with funding duplicated by both ministries. Gafni demanded that this situation end as well.

To add insult to injury, Gafni said, Jewish Home was now attempting to set the agenda for hareidi yeshivas that run one year programs for students from abroad.

“Thanks to them, such programs will not be funded by the government unless they include a unit on 'Zionist values.' They should realize that the hareidi yeshivas will continue to teach Torah in a spirit of holiness as they have done until now. Torah study will not be made subject to coalition interests,” he added.