After doubling the budget of a gay youth organization, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) has come out with a new initiative, this time launching a program to have Arab students learn Hebrew as a required subject starting in kindergarten all the way through high school.
Bennett's program is estimated to cost 30 million shekels ($7.9 million), and it will come into effect next school year.
The program focuses on improving the spoken Hebrew of Arab students, and Bennett's Education Ministry stated that the step would allow greater dialogue and communication between the Arab and Jewish populations – and also greatly improve Arab employment and economic power.
"Knowledge of Hebrew will lessen the social gaps – it is a stimulus for social and economic advancement, and a key at integrating into Israeli society economically and culturally," said the ministry in a statement, emphasizing how the move will help Arabs have a greater presence in academia and the Israeli job market.
Official figures show that 93% of Arab sixth grade students think Hebrew will help them succeed in the future, but only 47% are exposed to Hebrew outside of school, indicating the Arabic bubble most students in the sector live in. Those reading Hebrew newspapers stand at 26%, while just 16% watch Hebrew TV shows.
"The decision to advance the study of the Hebrew language to kindergarten for the Arab sector stems from thoughts for the future of the children," said Bennett.
"With my entry to my position I obligated myself to reduce the gaps, and that's what I'm doing," he said. "Knowledge of the Hebrew language will obtain skills and tools required today to build the personal and professional future of every male and female student."
Bennett has long set Arab employment as a key goal of his, including during his stint at Economy Minister in the last coalition during which time he oversaw an expensive program integrating Arabs in the hi-tech industry.
In March 2013, he told the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA) that the issue of increasing the number of Arab women in the workforce is "his baby."
Likewise in May 2013, when MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad) raised complaints about the lack of Arab women in the workforce in a Knesset session, Bennett took the podium and told her "on this issue we completely agree. Well done (for raising the topic)." He called the increased employment of Arab women a "national goal," saying the increased employment of Arab women will help Israeli society, and that Jews and Israeli Arabs are "a couple living in the same country and the same state."
Indicating his support of the Israeli Arab community, Bennett claimed last November that "99.9% of Arab citizens are loyal to the state of Israel."
In another comment equating Jewish and Arab citizens, just this Sunday he called for the death penalty to be applied to both Arab terrorists and "Jewish terrorists" – even though he and his party recently voted against a bill calling for the death penalty against terrorists.