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JNF funds illegal outposts; more public money goes to Orthodox

TJI Pick
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JNF funds illegal outposts; more public money goes to Orthodox

Published: 6 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The OECD has called on Israel to increase funding to Arab schools and stop subsidies for yeshiva students.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday released a report calling on Israel to halt subsidies for yeshiva students and increase funding for Arab schools.

This follows strong efforts by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to do the opposite – increase the budgets for ultra-Orthodox institutions while delaying and reducing the development and education budgets for the Arab sector.

The OECD Going for Growth 2023 report is intended to provide the countries comprising the multilateral organisation with guidelines for formulating policies aimed at bringing about growth, including individual recommendations tailored to each member state.

For Israel to improve inclusiveness and social protection conditions, the report recommended removing government subsidies for yeshiva students and conditioning childcare support on fathers’ employment, while increasing childcare and education funding for Arab schools, to equalise their budget to schools with similar socio-economic profiles in the Hebrew sector.

The report also warned that the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs are underrepresented in the high-tech sector and their employment rates are low, as are the scope of their working hours and wages.

Both government funding and donations are increasingly being directed to extremist nationalist and Orthodox institutions.

The JNF transferred four million shekels ($A1.64m) over the past two years for at-risk youth training programs to organisations that promote living in strategically placed outposts intended to minimise Palestinian grazing grounds.

The money, intended for professional training for youths, was transferred to organisations and groups that encourage the construction of illegal outposts. One of these organisations encourages volunteers to  work in shepherd's farms, whose occupants have been accused by left-wing activists of violence and harassment of Palestinians.

A source at the JNF told Haaretz that the number of farms in the West Bank receiving support as part of the project intended for at-risk youth is larger than the number of similar farms in the Negev or Galilee regions within Israel's borders.

There has also been a major transfer of government funds to the Haredi sector. The 2023-24 budget, approved by the Knesset in May, contains an unprecedented 14 billion shekels ($A5.72bn) of coalition-designated spending, most of it for Haredi institutions and programs.

Hundreds of millions of shekels more have been approved by the Knesset Finance Committee at the behest of the Treasury. Since the government can’t spend more than the state budget allows, the extra funds for the ultra-Orthodox  come from other spending.  A large part of the 700-million-shekel allocation approved last month will be funded by cuts in other ministries, including a 155-million-shekel reduction in the Education Ministry’s budget for building new classrooms.

“A no-man’s land has been created without supervision by the Knesset or by the [treasury] budget division,” said Neri Horowitz, who served as a consultant on ultra-Orthodox education at the Education Ministry. “Even budget lines intended for all students contain money for reinforcing Torah lessons by religious organisations,” Dr Horowitz said.

OECD calls on Israel to increase subsidies to Arab schools, halt those to ultra-Orthodox (Haaretz)  

Going for Growth report: Israel (OECD)

JNF funds projects for at-risk youth in illegal West Bank outposts (Haaretz)  

For Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, taxpayer money is flooding in (Haaretz)  

Four Palestinians flee West Bank village since July, UN says, calls on Israel to follow international law (Haaretz)  
The UN says that international humanitarian law forbids the forceful transference of citizens and called on Israel to halt the restrictions on movement, destruction of structures and the conducting of military exercises.

Owning 'Joshua's Altar': How a West Bank archaeological site became an Israeli-Palestinian battleground (Haaretz)  
Israeli soldiers accompanied the visitors to Mount Ebal in Area B, which is under Palestinian civil control. “The State of Israel will implement our sovereignty here,” says local municipal leader.

Photo: Settlers work to rebuild an illegal structure demolished by Israeli troops in the West Bank outpost of Maoz Esther, a hilltop site northeast of Ramallah (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

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