Government meeting
Government meetingIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The Israeli government approved on Sunday a law that would allow for free education for children starting at the age of three.

In order to allow for the new law to be applied, lateral budget cuts in all government ministries were approved. While many MKs originally said they would vote against the law because of the planned cuts, a last-minute agreement was reached with the Shas party which enabled the law to receive a majority and be approved.

The law passed by a majority of 21 supporters against eight opponents. Those who opposed the law are the members of the Yisrael Beteinu and Independence parties.

Free education for children at an early age was an important part of the report of the Trajtenberg Committee for Social and Economic Change, which was established in response to the massive “social justice” rallies that dominated Israeli news over the summer.

The government voted to accept the conclusions of the report in October.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference following the decision to approve the free education bill, “We are repairing an historical distortion and it is a great blessing, first of all, for young families. Starting next fall, a quarter of a million children will receive free education.”

He added that after-school programs will be subsidized for parents who work, regardless of their wage level, noting that “it’s a blessing and a holiday for Israel.”

“We’ve decided on lateral budget cuts in government ministries that will also give us the ability to increase the budget for the Ministry of Defense,” Netanyahu said. “We will introduce visibility and control over the defense budget which will improve the streamlining of the IDF and will help me as prime minister and future prime ministers to monitor the budget and make informed and balanced decisions.”

The new law was welcomed by several MKs, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai who said, “Free education for preschoolers is a worthy and blessed law, but only so long that it does not harm the weaker sectors. After we reached an agreement with the Treasury to cancel the planned cuts in the local authorities and cancel the planned cut in the Housing Ministry’s neighborhood restoration project, we removed our opposition to the approval of the law.”

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who chairs the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women, also welcomed the new law.

“I welcome the Prime Minister’s full commitment to changing national priorities,” she said. “Education is one of the central obligations of any state to its citizens and it cannot be that so many families have to bow to the burden of educating their children while other families avoid proper education of their children for financial reasons. This is the essential first step in the revolution that would give free education already from the age of thee months.”

Meanwhile, Itzik Shmuli, Chairman of the National Student Union, rejected the new law and said, “The Free Education Law is a desirable and necessary move and is one of the main demands of the protest movement, but the decision to implement it through broad budget cutting is no more than a budgetary trick that takes from one pocket and moves into another pocket.”

He added, “The Prime Minister is once again avoiding setting real priorities, which is the central claim of the protest movement. We intend to continue fighting for affordable housing for working families and pressure the government to make a decision on this matter immediately.”

Shmuli has in the past expressed his opposition to the Trajtenberg Report, saying it is “an incomplete and lacking report, which contains many important statements but whose recommendations are inadequate and unsatisfying.”