The Knesset Finance Committee has approved a request by
the Finance Ministry to transfer NIS 25 million to ten
cities with low economic levels. The purpose of the
grant is to reduce the wide discrepancy between these
and more economically successful cities.
The plan includes aid for Beit She'an, Ofakim, Dimona,
Yeruchom, Netivot, Shderot, the Merchavim Regional
Council, Emanuel, Kiryat Arba and Katzir-Charish.
During the deliberation, a sharp argument erupted
between the Committee's chareidi representatives and the
mayor of Ofakim, Yair Chazan, over the Committee's
approach to the needs of chareidi residents of these
Committee Chairman Rabbi Yaakov Litzman complained that
the welfare and educational needs of chareidi residents
of these cities are not subsidized. He said, "I have
heard, behind the scenes, that the Education Ministry
instructed the heads of development towns not to respond
positively to demands of the chareidi sector. We, the
religious representatives in the Committee, accuse the
Education Ministry of ignoring our demands on issues
such as transportation of children and subsidy of a long
school day. We can't condone a situation in which
chareidi residents of cities and development towns are
treated like second-class citizens."
Chairman of the Ofakim City Council, Yair Chazan,
claimed that the problem lies within the system. The
needs of the chareidi sector must pass through the
chareidi educational networks. Due to this, he said,
questions arise regarding whether expenses should be
covered by the City Council or by the chareidi network.
The final result is that the residents suffer. He cited
the chareidi kindergarten in Ofakim as an example,
saying that if the kindergarten is run by the chareidi
system, it is liable for ongoing expenses such as
telephone and water. However, the chareidi network
demands that the local council pay these expenses. "But
what can we do? Those are the instructions of the
Education Ministry. The Ministry includes ongoing
expenses in its budget. We are not prepared to give the
chareidi sector double subsidies."
Rabbi Gafni expressed his dismay at these remarks. "The
payment is dependent on the decision of the mayor. You
can return to Ofakim. You're disgracing it," he shouted
at Yair Chazan. He then said that in Ofakim hundreds of
chareidi children study in bomb shelters. "You're to
blame for that. An agreement to change that situation
was made a year and a half ago, and you didn't keep
Chazan, in turn, claimed that when the former Education
Minister, Yossi Sarid, visited Ofakim, it was agreed
that the Council would give the children much more than
was required by law.
Rav Litzman retorted, "Will the religious and chareidi
children in Ofakim get that too?"
Chazan: "Of course. There are two new chareidi schools
in Ofakim, like Neve Yocheved."
At the end of the deliberation, Rabbi Litzman suggested
that the Committee visit Ofakim in order to examine the
various claims that had been voiced.