Christian educators say Israeli policies could force school closures

Dozens of Christian schools in Israel could be shutting their doors this school year, but a Catholic priest is hoping a meeting with government officials can avoid that.

Christian educators warn that funding discrimination by the Israel's Ministry of Education may force the closure of about 48 Christian schools, affecting some 33,000 pupils—roughly half Christian, half Muslim—who attend the institutions. 


Many of the educational institutions existed before Israel's founding in 1948 and have excellent academic records countrywide. 

Educators on the Christian schools committee said they have withstood prodding by the Education Ministry for the schools to become part of Israel's officially recognized school system. Such a move would mean losing the schools' Christian identity, ethos and the ability to teach Christian values.

"The Education Ministry is financially strangling the Christian schools that have existed for hundreds of years," said Franciscan Father Abdel Masih Fahim, president of the committee of Catholic schools.

But Father Fahim told Catholic News Service he is expecting something positive to result from a meeting expected with Israeli Education Ministry officials Aug. 23. 

"We are waiting for a solution. All children in Israel should have their rights from the government," he said via telephone from Ramla, Israel. 

While Christian schools and those of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox are recognized by the state, they are not part of Israel's official educational system. This allows them to create their own curriculum according to their religious beliefs and values, appoint their own principals and teachers and have authority over their own buildings.

But that's where the similarities end. Israel's Education Ministry provides 100 percent funding for 200,000 ultra-Orthodox students in religious, nonpublic schools, but has whittled its finance of Christian schools over the past decade down to about 34 percent, Father Fahim said, quoting a study by Israel's parliament.

"We want 100 percent funding for all children," the priest said. He said that Christian schools also do not receive the new technology available elsewhere.

Israeli Christians believe this is unfair treatment because Israeli national law prohibits discrimination in education.

Despite the challenges, Christians have reportedly earned the highest rate of success in Israel's matriculation exams, known as Bagrut, which largely determines who is admitted to a state university.

"The Christians schools are following the curriculum of the Ministry of Education, but that is not the case with some of the other schools," Father Fahim added.

Meanwhile, a 1993 agreement between Israel and the Vatican also sets down a promise by Israel not to change the status quo of the church's institutions in the Jewish state.

Another member on the committee of Christian schools, the Director General of the Nazareth Baptist School, Boutros Mansour, said that as the Education Ministry has been cutting back year by year on funds that should be allotted to Christian schools, the schools have been force to raise tuition by some $6,350 per student per year. However, many families find it difficult to afford the price hike. 

This year, the Education Ministry tightened the restrictions further by stipulating that a limit of $3,528 per pupil per year is the maximum amount schools are allowed to charge parents.

Some Christians see this move as the government trying to press the Christians schools into becoming public schools. 

"If this is the case, the whole Christian faith emphasis would be lost," Mansour told CNS from Nazareth. 

He said Christian schools provide an "important base of establishing Christian identity in Israel."

"Without them, he said, "there is almost no social identity," aside from church.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

 Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass marking the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 20. The pope at his "Regina Coeli" announced that he will create 14 new cardinals June 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Eleven of the new cardinals are under the age of 80 and so have the right to vote in the next conclave.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 20, 2018
Images: AP, Wikimedia Commons
Bishop Curry described Teilhard as “one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.”
Angelo Jesus CantaMay 19, 2018
Both men were close to each other in life, and both are much revered by Pope Francis.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 19, 2018
The Gaza Nakba demonstrations this week have done nothing to advance the situation of Palestinian refugees, nor did they provide relief to the people of Gaza, who dwell in an open-air prison, hemmed in and oppressed at every turn.