Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israel’s Christian schools have been on strike since the start of the month after the Israeli government cut their funds and expressed a desire to incorporate them into the state-run system. The Church of the Holy Land and European bishops back their struggle.
A leading figure in the fight is Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem. In his opinion, the current Israeli government is insensitive towards Christian students.
“Despite the moderate optimism of the past few days, the controversy over the Catholic schools has not been resolved,” he told AsiaNews. “We strongly desire to see the school year start next Monday (28 September) but we are not willing to go back to school and open the classrooms at any cost. We want at least our rights to be respected and that relations between the parties be fair."
Teachers and students say they are discriminated twice over. State funds cover only 29 per cent of costs. Yet, the authorities have limited how much families can contribute.
The discrimination is even more blatant when Christian schools are compared to their Ultra-Orthodox counterpart. The latter are 100 per cent funded by the state and their curriculum is not subject to Education Ministry inspections.
Pope Francis and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin discussed the issue when they met for the first time at the Vatican a few weeks ago.
So far, talks designed to settle the issue have proven fruitless. Christian schools demand fifty million dollars, whilst the government is only offering five.
Christian leaders have reiterated that they also reject the notion that Christian schools become part of the national school system because they would lose their identity and their mission in society.
For Mgr Marcuzzo, the main goal remains what is "the good for the students, their return to school," but this cannot happen "at any cost".
“We still have to work out various points,” he said. However, “as soon as one issue is settled, another one appears.”
Mainly, “Two thorny issues remain. Above all, they want to strip us of the right to strike. The government is willing to release some of the funds, but it wants to ban future strikes in Catholic schools.”
Secondly, a panel agreed upon by the Education Ministry and the Christian schools council to work on ending the impasse is turning into a second point of contention.
Renowned Arab Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran could be appointed head of a committee to end an ongoing impasse. However, the government "wants to appoint a Jewish panel co-chair,” the patriarchal vicar said.
“This is absurd,” he explained. “Who has ever seen a body with two presidents. Make him a deputy chair, an assistant chair, but a two-headed chairmanship is not acceptable." (DS)