"UTJ representatives must fight for what other citizens receive automatically. As a result of this, over the years people have begun to view us as extortionists. The image of a party which exploits chance political configurations [to "extort" the public] pursues us all the time. Woe to us for having reached such a situation, because it is true. We do exploit the political situation. But for what purpose? In order to receive the minimum, which every other group in society receives automatically," Rabbi Ravitz said at a discussion about the State budget last week in the Knesset.
He described the arduous deliberations which UTJ held with the Treasury clerks. "What did we talk about? Knesset members representing non-chareidi parties will surely be astounded that we had to deliberate about such points. Does any other Knesset member have to argue with clerks about building classrooms for his children? In every new neighborhood they are built as a matter of course, even before the children are born. But in the chareidi community, things are different. New chareidi settlements, such as Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, Elad Mazor and Amishav were built, but no one ever considered the fact that chareidi children also require schools."
In response to remarks of the Minister of Commerce and Trade, Ran Cohen, Rabbi Ravitz added: "These are the facts of life, and you don't have to go far to see that they are true. 2130 families with 15,000 children, kein yirbu, live in the Jerusalem Shuafat project, which I promoted when I was Deputy Housing Minster. As of today, not even one classroom for boys has been built. When we ask the Jerusalem Municipality and the Education Ministry about this, they respond: `Give them some from your quota.' That's shocking. It's like during the tzenah (belt-tightening) period in the early years of the State, in which the basic necessities were rationed."
The "quota" referred to is the fact that as part of the final negotiations to guarantee the support of UTJ for the State's Budget for next year, it was given a promise to build 280 classrooms. Though it might be expected that these classrooms will bring some breathing room to chareidi schools, in fact they will only keep up with the naturally increasing needs and make a small dent in the overcrowding. They will still not be enough to have amenities in most schools such as teachers' rooms.
Rabbi Ravitz described the large chareidi community in Beit Shemesh, where kindergartens and day care centers have been built. "One was built in an area where the chareidi community bought apartments. But when the chareidim approached the Likud, kipah-wearing mayor, he refused to give them the day care center for their children. He sent them to me so that I would give them from my quota, so that he could give the day care center to someone else. That's the way we live. When I receive 280 classrooms -- not only for the chinuch of Agudas Yisroel but for both us and Shas -- we are called extortionists.
"Discrimination is forbidden according to the law and after the canceling the special budgets, we thought that the Torah educational systems and the Chinuch Atzmai would be on the same footing as the state secular education system. But law is one thing and reality another. The time has come to include the basic needs of the chareidi sector in the budget."
Rabbi Ravitz added that relating to all of the State's children in an equitable manner is an elementary obligation. "There is a law which forbids discrimination against the Chinuch Atzmai and the Maayan Hachinuch HaTorani, and it is not being put into practice. The Government must carry out the law. The budgets of the local authorities discriminate against chareidi education."
The truth is that the Government chooses when to abide by the law and when not to. Rabbi Ravitz reminded the Knesset members of the decision made in the wake of the canceling of the special allocations(yichudim), and chareidi parties' fear of a lack of proper allocation of funds to its educational networks. "In the 12th Knesset, when the Law Against Special Allocations was enacted, we asked: What will happen to chareidi education? That same day, a law was passed stating that the Chinuch Atzmai and the Maayan Hachinuch wouldn't be discriminated against, and would be budgeted on terms equal to those of the Government education. That's the law. But we all know what is happening in reality."
Rabbi Ravitz said that it is necessary to pressure the Government and obligate it to uphold the law. "It all depends on the political situation. We are trampled upon and the discrimination is outrageous," he said.
"Don't chareidi parents pay taxes?" Rabbi Ravitz cried out. "Are the local authorities allowed to steal the chareidi taxpayers' money? Local authorities receive education budgets according to the number of students in their area of jurisdiction. That's robbery, and we'll fight it."
Minister of Commerce Ran Cohen said that he was surprised by Rabbi Ravitz's remarks about the quotas and the serious lack of classrooms. "I admit it," he said. "I am surprised and shocked by what you have said, because Israel has a Compulsory Education Law which applies to all of the children in the State. I can't believe that there are children in the State who do not receive or will not receive an education, or will not receive a classroom due to their religious affiliation or the sect to which he belongs."
Chairman of the Finance Committee, Eli Goldschmidt, responded to Rabbi Ravitz's remarks, and called upon the ministers and all Knesset members to rally to the challenge raised by Rabbi Ravitz and to anchor the needs of the entire nation within the framework of the coming year's budget. "All of us must be concerned about health issues, welfare issues, and housing issues and make sure that no one is deprived," he said.
"The Prime Minister's melange of unfulfilled promises, his inconsiderable remarks and insensitivity to Jewish values, such as Shabbos, should cause all of us to be concerned," Rabbi Meir Porush said in a speech he delivered during a discussion on the Law of Arrangements in the Economy and the Budget Law.
He added, "I want to reserve for myself the right to represent the weak sectors and to make constructive criticism, in order to correct the approach of all of the governments in the present and the future.
"UTJ has reached an agreement with the Finance Minister to uphold the ministries' principles regarding the issues of the yeshiva students, the Chinuch Atzmai, classrooms, dormitories, seminaries for girls and rental problems for young couples. But if all of the finance ministers in the past understood that the chareidi sector deserves all this, why isn't it included within the budget? Why wait until the 27th of December to be degraded and to hold deliberations which serve no one? If we deserve these allocations, they should be permanently recorded in the budget book."
He then referred to recently publicized statistics which state that Bnei Brak is the poorest city in Israel and Jerusalem, the second poorest. He proposed that the Knesset join hands on this issue and transfer UTJ budgets in the areas of education and welfare in order to alleviate the poverty in these cities.