Israeli minister steps in to become saviour of Christian schools

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Knesset member Gila Gamliel in the port city of Ashdod.Reuters

Christian schools at risk of collapse in Israel over a budget crisis have found salvation in the form of Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel.

Gamliel has decided to take matters into her own hands and allow organisations such as the 47 Christian schools, which are mainly Catholic and educate 33,000 Christian and Muslim children, to claim their missing grant of 50 million Israeli New Sheqels, equivalent to about £9 million, through a new system.

Pope Francis raised the schools funding crisis with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin last September.Reuters

The schools had gone on strike last September after they were hit by budget cuts in the original grant. The strike ended when the Education Ministry pledged to transfer the cash to the Social Equality Ministry to be distributed to the schools. But the Education Ministry has since refused to hand over the money because the schools are not officially recognised, The Times of Israel has learned.

A committee, the Shoshani Committee, set up to look into the crisis had recommended bringing the Christian schools into the public school system to allow them to be publicly funded while remaining religious.

Even Pope Francis got involved, and discussed the crisis with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin when he visited the Vatican last September.

A Social Equality Ministry spokesman said Gamliel is intervening because she believes the schools deserve to have the money.

She is anxious to avoid a repeat of last September where pupils missed the start of the academic year because of the strike by the schools' 3,000 teachers.

Parents pay about a third of the cost of educating their children at the schools, which are among the highest achieving in Israel. 

There are about 160,000 Christians in Israel and 14,000 in East Jerusalem.

Christian Schools in Israel have been helping to educate the children of the Holy Land from all faiths and denominations for centuries. The premises are owned by churches and monasteries. For decades the schools have been categorised as "recognised and unofficial".