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.