September 27, 2023

Israeli Border Police officers clash with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man during a raid in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Meah Shearim, Jerusalem.

Tensions between the ultra-Orthodox Israeli population and their secular counterparts are mounting over flashpoint topics such as education and transportation.

“We won’t agree to benefit one population over others by circumventing the considerations of the local council,” a group of 170 local council leaders wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers. The topic was financing ultra-Orthodox schools, which the leaders said they would not do, following a change in the law prompted by coalition deals.

Israeli schools are divided into four tracks: state-secular, state-religious, Arab and independent-religious – where the ultra-Orthodox learn. The independent-religious track is “exempt” from following Education Ministry guidelines.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children seen the first day of school at an ultra-Orthodox school in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood of Jerusalem.

These schools used to only receive funding from local councils if they covered 75 percent of the core curriculum. However, coalition agreements would cut this to 55 percent.

“We won’t allow the state to expropriate the authority and responsibilities of the local councils on education,” the letter continued. “Recognition of unregulated institutions is done by the state, and therefore it is the state that must fund these institutions.”

Many of these mayors were elected with the help of ultra-Orthodox votes, specifically the mayors of Petah Tikva, Lod and Haifa. In response to the letter, a lawmaker from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party threatened to cut ties with the council heads in future elections.

Moshe Gafni speaks during a meeting of the United Torah Judaism party at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem.

The UTJ party has also been making headlines regarding transportation. They have been calling to ban construction on the country’s railway system during the Jewish rest day of Shabbat – Friday at sundown to Saturday at sunset.

On Sunday, Netanyahu declared his intention to abide by coalition agreements with the party, thereby halting the rail work. He instructed Transportation Minister Miri Regev to study which work was essential on Shabbat and which was not. He also pledged to include a representative of the Rabbinate – the country’s religious authority – in the work planning committee.

Sources familiar with the matter further noted that this decision would require a review of contracts with contractors, resulting in a cost of several million for the public treasury. Additionally, the electrical works require 24 hours of continuous work, and it would be impossible to make significant progress only working at night on weekdays.

While the ultra-Orthodox comprise just 13 percent of Israel’s population, the community is expected to double within the next 16 years, according to a study by the IDI.

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