With Christian Schools At Risk In Israel, Crickets from American Christian Conservatives

Last week, Christianity Today ran a piece headlined, “Why Christian Education in Israel Could Vanish.” The reason? “Funding discrimination” by Israel’s Ministry of Education:

The ministry provides 100 percent funding for 200,000 ultra-Orthodox students in religious, nonpublic schools. Israeli Christians believe this is unfair treatment since Israeli national law prohibits discrimination in education. “In a challenging time like this for Christians in the whole Middle East, we expect Israel to deal with this identity matter of Christians in a sensitive way,” said Botrus Mansour, director of Nazareth Baptist, a K-12 school that is nationally recognized for excellent instruction. Christian school administrators want the ministry to fully fund recognized Christian schools.

As Lisa Goldman reports at Al Jazeera America, over the past five years, the Israeli government has slashed funding for Christian schools. It now contributes just 45 percent of their budgets, requiring the schools to raise tuition, thus placing pressure on the economically strapped families of their students. In contrast, as both Al Jazeera and Christianity Today noted, the Israeli government funds 100% of the budgets of ultra Orthodox Jewish yeshivas.

According to Goldman’s reporting, 30,000 Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, attend Israel’s Christian schools, which predate the founding of the state of Israel. These schools, Goldman writes, “have a reputation for academic rigor, producing multilingual graduates who boost the ranks of the professional and business elite of Israel’s Palestinian citizenry.”

Father Fahim Abdelmasih, the head of the Christian Schools’ Office in Israel, told Goldman that months of negotiating with the Education Ministry produced no results, and called the situation “a ‘death sentence’ for Christian schools in Israel.”

Given the American Christian right’s interest in religious freedom, particularly for Christians, and particularly in the Middle East, where Christians are enduring and fleeing persecution, one might expect a massive outcry over this. Just imagine the objections to unequal treatment, by any government, of any Christian organization. But when I reached out to three major conservative Christian organizations, all of which advocate for religious freedom and support for Israel, I received no such reaction. In response to requests for interviews or comment from Ralph Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, I received just one response—from Reed’s spokeswoman, who said he was unavailable.

All three organizations are strenuous supporters of religious liberty, both in the United States and abroad. But all three are also staunchly pro-Israel. Last year, Reed and Nance co-authored a column arguing that both religious liberty and “Israel and radical Islam” would be critical issues in the 2016 Republican primary, demanding the candidates have a “demonstrated, consistent, long-standing support for Israel and a solid understanding of why Israel matters to the U.S.” Nance’s CWA co-hosted, with Mike Huckabee, a Stand With Israel rally on Capitol Hill last October, where speakers touted a Jewish-Christian alliance based on a shared recognition of God’s “plan for Israel.”

The “support” for Israel might explain why Israel is exempt from these activists’ claims about infringements of religious liberty at home and around the world. Israel is so important—part of God’s plan—that drawing attention to any mistreatment of Christians in the Holy Land is off the table.

Last year, FRC’s Perkins wrote about the persecution of Christians around the world—granted, much of it far more horrific than the defunding of schools. Yet Perkins did not hesitate to link what he portrayed as discrimination against Christians in the United States as one step in a slippery slope to more oppression, citing the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act as a “a massive violation” of the rights of Christian businesses, non-profits, hospitals, and universities “of their right to live out their faith in the marketplace, in the health care system, and in the academic world.”

Perkins acknowledged that “American Christians experience nothing like the gruesome punishment Christians undergo daily around the globe.” But, he went on, the “precursor to persecution is always repression, the forcing-down of Christian faith into quiet corners where its visibility is limited and its impact is weakened.” He maintained that “we are witnessing that kind of growing repression in the U.S. today and it is fostering or at least giving rise to the spread of the persecution of Christians and religious minorities around the world.”

If requiring health insurance for contraception is a “massive violation” of the rights of Christians, what is starving their schools of funding?

In a letter promoting Family Research Council’s first-ever tour of Israel scheduled for this fall, Perkins described it as a “unique, one-of-a kind tour,” giving participants the opportunity to “explore the land of the Bible and the roots of our Christian faith.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Senator Rick Santorum, both Republican presidential candidates, will accompany the tour, as will Fox News’ Todd Starnes. The trip, Perkins writes, will allow travelers to see “the spiritual roots of Christianity and to build strategic relationships with political and spiritual leaders in Israel.” Just don’t ask any of them about funding for Christian schools.

  • Given that Israel exists, largely because Christendom drove the Jewish people out of Europe, it’s a bit rich to hear Baptists complaining that Israel doesn’t sufficiently fund Christian schools.

    What, we don’t have enough of those here?

  • Jeffrey Samuels

    it’s only logical. In their minds, the only reason Israel exists, and the only purpose of the Jews is to further their own apocalypse theology. It stands to reason that Israel must put Christians on a pedestal, because Jesus.

  • Yeah…good luck with that one. The Israeli Right is just using the American Evangelical Right. They feel no sense of indebtedness whatsoever.

  • Whiskyjack

    I fully expect Israel to develop into a case study for separation of Church and State. As the ranks of ultra-Orthodox swell, funded and educated on the public dime, Israel will descend into sectarian chaos.

  • Don

    What percentage support do they offer to the Quranic schools in Israel, I’d like to know!

  • I am not surprised by this political/educational disconnect with the Christian schools in Israel and these conservative Christian groups in the US. Since most of the students in these schools are Palestinians, they have absolutely no relevance to the Christian Right here because they are not key to the Apocalyptic Gospel that these American groups are working towards and embrace. These are children who are not White, Anglo-Saxons nor are they Jewish, so both the Israeli government and the American religious right consider them of no worth, and potentially a threat to the Israeli government. That they get only 45% of their funding from the Israeli government is not much different from the charter school programs we have seen rise here in the US. The Israeli government funds the yeshivas because they are the equivalent of what was once our US public school system, and the fact that these schools are ultra Orthodox is in keeping with their political orientation.

    Is the failure of the Israeli government to fully fund these schools wrong? In US culture, yes, but in Israeli culture, it is just business as usual. Is the failure of the Christian Right to support these schools wrong? Yes, but it is also completely understandable if you consider that these same groups have worked to undermine the US public educational system for decades now, and have turned their backs on intellectual efforts generally for nearly 5 decades now.

  • If you bother to go to the school’s webpage, you can see that they clearly have an evangelizing mission, within Israel.

    I can’t imagine that you could possibly believe that a Jewish state has an obligation to support and fund a school, part of whose mission is to evangelize on behalf of Christianity.

    The only reason Israel exists is because Christendom persecuted the Jewish people for milennia and then attempted to exterminate them in the last century. The notion that Israel then has a duty to support Christian institutions is beyond outrageous. It represents a demented conception of obligation and duty.

  • scottrob

    “have a reputation for academic rigor, producing multilingual graduates who boost the ranks of the professional and business elite of Israel’s Palestinian citizenry.”
    This is why American Right Wing Christians do not care about Christian schools in Israel. They would not support those schools in the US. Private “Christian” schools in the US where the Christian right might send their kids are not very good compared to Catholic, Episcopal, and other private school.

  • Mr. Kaufman, I never said that the Israeli government had an obligation to support this school. The article noted that it did. I said that Christians in America that support the Christian Right movement were not supporting these schools because of bigotry, and their ideas about Armageddon. I believe that the only schools that Israel is obligated to support are those that it considers public schools, not private schools such as this one, which I compared to the charter schools here in America which I do not support.

    Perhaps, Mr. Kaufman, if you would bother to go back and read the article, you would find that Israel has been supporting this school before, continues to support it now, and that my comments were about the abysmal way the American Christian Right has been lax in offering greater support. I am not anti-education and believe that every nation should provide free public education to its citizens as a public duty, and I believe schools such as these Christian schools along with their charter school corporate equivalents should be funded by organizations whose doctrines they support and private tuition. And while you are at it, Mr. Kaufman, you might want to get that chip you are carrying on your shoulder a bit of nudge so that you can see when someone is supporting your ideals.

  • This is unresponsive to the points I have made.

    I am touched by your concern for my shoulders.

  • Virtually all of my family lives in Israel and my father is one of the founding generation — Haganah and ’48 IDF.

    What you describe is certainly a possibility, though a remote one. The large majority of Israelis are modern and/or secular. Only 20% identify as “orthodox” or “utlra-orthodox”, less than the percentage of hardcore evangelical Christians in the US.

    The power of the religious right in Israel, right now, is due to the very close polling of the mainstream Left and Right parties — they play a tiebreaker role. Once that changes, they won’t be needed anymore, and given that most of the country hates them, I would be very surprised if they were allowed to destroy the country.

    Israel is a modern, largely progressive, technological and economic powerhouse of a country, located in the middle of a bunch of basket-case dictatorships. Companies like Intel have major operations there and they boast some of the best universities in the world. Countries don’t just hand that sort of legacy over to the knuckledraggers to ruin.

  • Whiskyjack

    I sincerely hope you’re correct, but the Orthodox faction appear to be out-reproducing the progressives. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the longer term.

  • The data I cited is from 2010.

  • lorasinger

    Certainly they are free to have “Christian schools” which they can pay for themselves. Or they can have public schools and take care of the religion end of it themselves.