Israel Pulse

Why some ultra-Orthodox are up in arms over state funding for their schools

Article Summary
Parents from the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox stream are angry at one of their schools for secretly receiving funding from the Israeli Ministry of Education.

The Eda Haharedit community, the prominent anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, has been raging and roiling in recent weeks. The discovery of an episode that touches on the core of the group’s ideology has caused a shock and a conflict that has involved insults, vandalism and even physical violence. The cause of the controversy: The administrators of the community’s educational institutions who claim, seemingly, not to depend in any way on the state’s funding, secretly enjoyed government money.

It all started in June when the parents of the girls’ school Hokhmat Lev, located in the ultra-Orthodox Me’ah She’arim neighborhood in Jerusalem, were surprised to learn that the school, contrary to its principals’ official assertion, secretly receives funding from the Israeli Ministry of Education. This was uncovered after a Ministry of Education supervisor was spotted by one of the parents at the school’s office. From that moment the suspicion arose among parents that there’s secret cooperation between the school and the Ministry of Education, and after an independent investigation by parents it turned out that the institution does indeed secretly receive funding from the state by means of a nonprofit organization unknown to the parents. 

Parents, members of the ultra-Orthodox sector who send their girls to this school, belong to one of the anti-Zionist groups in Israel. These groups ideologically oppose any connection to the “Zionist state” including receiving its funds. In their view, receiving funds from the state means creating dependency that invites the government's unacceptable involvement in curricula.

In this case, it wasn’t only parents of the ultra-Orthodox sector who were angry. The ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist Satmar community in the United States, which funds the Hokhmat Lev school and other schools through a charity called Shekel Hatahor (Pure Shekel) — on the condition that these institutions will not benefit from government funding — was no less angry. Satmar sources argued in conversation with Al-Monitor that the school enjoys funding from three sources: the state; tuition from parents, levied because the school claims not to receive government funding; and aid from Satmar budgets.

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According to the principal of Hokhmat Lev, Rabbi Alter Koifman, he knew nothing about the school receiving government funds, and others were involved without his knowledge. He claimed in a conversation with Al-Monitor that state budgets did not fund the school’s educational activity. A source from the community who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity argued that the “guilty party” is a woman known in the community, who is close to Koifman, who did so “to gather money to fund children’s weddings.” 

What destroyed the parents’ faith in the school’s administration was the fact that the principal refused to send an official request to the Ministry of Education to stop the budgets for the new school year. “They deceived and lied to us,” a father of a 10-year-old pupil at the school told Al-Monitor on the condition his name not be divulged. “We feel betrayed in the deepest way. We pay a high personal price for our ideology. They took advantage of our faith for evil, when there is actually full cooperation with Zionist institutions.”

According to the pupil's father, the parents’ demand to fire the school’s administrative staff is basic, “and it’s not even designed to punish the people who betrayed the parents’ trust. They [the administration] proved that they are liars, and they can’t continue to run the school for one more day.” 

After the revelation, unknown individuals came to the school one night, locked its gates with heavy locks, spray painted black paint all over the building and scattered rotten fish all around it. Around the same time, groups of protesters tried to vandalize the property on a daily basis. Demonstrators also held protests in front of administrators’ homes. Only private security guards hired by the administrators stopped the protesters. Help from the “Zionist police” to defend the building was something no one in the anti-Zionist community had even dared to consider until then. 

In the meantime, a group of parents opened another school called “The Original Hokhmat Lev.” They say that the school not only declares it doesn’t receive government funds, it makes sure it never will.

The revelation of this incident caused significant agitation among anti-Zionist groups in Israel and around the world, and brought about a significant re-evaluation with the Hasidic Satmar group. The sect’s governing body, centered in New York, decided on new regulations, whereby schools that declare they don’t receive Israeli government funding and request financial assistance from the Satmar will have to provide students’ information to ascertain with the Ministry of Education that the educational institution does not benefit from government support.

This incident has created an absurd situation where anti-Zionist organizations will crosscheck information with the Ministry of Education to ensure that their students are not funded by the state. “We still haven’t been able to understand what happened, and it may be that the administration really didn’t know about the government funding,” a Satmar source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “What’s clear is that the party is over. From now on our regulations will prevent such mistakes from happening. Cross-checking with the Ministry of Education doesn’t deter us.” 

An official source at the Ministry of Education told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the ministry funds many anti-Zionist institutions in Israel, including in the Arab sector, and that loyalty to the state is not a condition for funding. The source added, “We have a problem with a false declaration to parents, and contrary to conspiracy theories among these communities, we have no interest in forcibly funding anyone. If we receive an orderly request that proves that the institution lied to parents, the issue will undergo a disciplinary hearing.”

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Found in: zionist, ultra-orthodox, students, schools, protest, ministry of education, funding, fraud

Mordechai Goldman has served for the past few years as the diplomatic and military analyst of the ultra-Orthodox daily Hamevaser. He attended ultra-Orthodox rabbinical colleges and studied psychology at the Israeli Open University. He also participated in the national civil service program. Goldman lectures to ultra-Orthodox audiences on the diplomatic process and on the Israel Defense Forces and consults with companies in regard to the ultra-Orthodox sector.

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