Tel Aviv school debate is symbol of Israel’s bad policy of segregation in education


A recent controversy in Israel centered on a school in Tel Aviv.  “Recently, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai supported a move to shut down the school and use the campus for the many illegal immigrant families now living in south Tel Aviv,” explained one website. Other intervened against “closing” the school and “transferring” it to migrant children.  “”The Prime Minister supports leaving the school as it is – an excellent school established by former immigrants from the Soviet Union hoping to improve the state of the Israeli educational system in the realm of sciences, mathematics and the arts.”

Another report discussed the conflict between the Tel Aviv mayor and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This angered Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai, who responded with a harsh statement. ‘Unfortunately, despite the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality’s requests to the prime minister, he chooses to release messages like a common internet commentator, instead of dealing with the problem of foreigners that he himself was among those responsible for,’ he said.”

According to a third article: Huldai later told Army Radio on Thursday that he would seek a solution with the Ministry of Education to ensure the school remains unchanged, “Unfortunately the prime minister let loose the Russian community on foreign workers,” Huldai said, “If the State of Israel, together with us, thinks that it is right and proper to continue the activities of the school in its present, form we will build the high school somewhere else.”

Symbol of segregation policies

When one reads between the lines what they find is articles referring to how the school originally served “Mizrahi” Jews and then served “Russians” and now the struggle is to make it a school for “foreigners”, “migrants” or “infiltrators.”  This is the language of Israel’s segregationist society.  The dispute about the school doesn’t even address this issue.  The question that is being asked is not about why there is segregation, which is taken for granted, but about why an excellent school catering to many Russian-speakers who come from outside Tel Aviv should be closed to provide education to “migrants.”

Now the real question:  Why can’t migrants attend other schools in Tel Aviv.  On July 28 it was reported that migrant children were sent to “42 new classes exclusively for asylum seekers and migrants children.”  Anat Ovadia-Rosner told The Jerusalem Post that “children have to go to school” and barents and children should have “basic rights.”


But in Israel the right to an education is also part of enforced segregation across 99% of schools in the country.  Arabs go to Arab schools.  Jews go to Jewish schools, either secular, religious or ultra-religious.  Migrants go to migrant schools. We wouldn’t want to ask “what does this remind you of?” Because that might lead to an answer no one wants to hear in Israel.  Who supports segregated education in Israel.  Everyone.  Every single political party supports it and collaborates with it.

Why can’t a migrant child in south Tel Aviv, a “foreigner” attend the same school as the mayor or prime-minister’s children go to?  Why can’t they attend a high school that is reserved only for “kibbutz” children?  Because in Israel where one is born and what religion and ethnicity someone is determines where one goes to school. When Wajdan Abu Alian sought to go to school in Omer, next to her house in the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva, her parents were told not to bring her again in 2010.  Omer is an upscale Jewish neighborhood, Tel Sheva is a bedouin community.

The state sanctions this segregation not only in its education system, but also in the settlement and planning policies in places such as the Negev.  Bedouin live in “Bedouin towns” and Jews live in “Jewish communities.”  Many of these communities, such as kibbutzim, are Jewish-only and closed to outsiders by acceptance committees.  This official-segregation is supported strongly by the left and right, many of the kibbutzim for instance vote for the “left” wing Meretz party, the most left, but the most right wing on segregating pupils and people.

From the day one is born they may not mix in school.  That means that one’s development and education is permanently bound to one’s school in one’s community, and since communities such as Bedouin get less funding, that means education is worse, one’s prospects in life are automatically worse. Then society wonders why there are so few bedouin in academics?  Because academics is preserved for the “right sort” of people from the “right sort” of communities.  Segregation is a way to permanently keep groups separate and unequal and keep them from succeeding economically and academically.  Ironically the same state that segregates, then has numerous studies and articles about how “integrating Arabs is a worthy cause.”  Worthy cause?  How about just de-segregating schools so that people don’t arrive at the age 18 having never met someone from the ‘other’? When studies say Arabs must “integrate”, how can they “integrate” in a system that has communities that keep them out, schools that keep them out?

It’s not just Arabs and Jews, its also migrants, and many Jews from poorer backgrounds and people of color and Mizrahim. Israel’s education system also segregated Ethiopians, creating schools and classes that are disproportionately Ethiopian, even one school that was entirely Ethiopian. Then the same country that segregates, is shocked to find out that the students perform less well, that they are also being arrested disproportionately.

The results of segregation are massive disparities.  “In many of the Arab and Haredi communities, the rate of students taking the maximum five units of math for the bagrut is especially low. In Immanuel, Bir al-Maksur, Rahat, Jisr al-Zarqa and Beitar Illit, no students took the bagrut at this level. In the periphery there was also a relatively low rate of students taking the highest level of the math bagrut: just 2 and 3 percent in Hatzor Haglilit and Ofakim, respectively, compared to 26 and 25 percent, respectively, in Kiryat Ono and Ramat Hasharon. A similar picture emerges with the advanced English bagrut.” This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for why some groups “integrate” and why some groups get into good army units and are set up for a career and why others are not.  It is enforced poverty for some, total right to privilege for others.

When one realizes what is happening in Israel and begins to as questions, the answers are disturbing.  The periphery, which is more Mizrahi, Russian, Ethiopian and poor, has failing schools and the gaps between it and the European-origin communities, such as kibbutzim, are growing. Bedouin, migrants, and Arabs, are all being locked into enforced, segregated, failure.

In every country poorer neighborhoods have worse schools.  Israel is not unique in that.  In every country the privileged and wealthy elites are able to afford to send their children to better, often private schools, and they can afford all the aids so that their children do well on tests and begin a career early in life.

But when one adds segregation into the mix they create an iron-clad wall to success.  In many countries there are middle class areas between the poor and the wealthy where there are opportunities for people to break out of cycles of poverty.  There are magnet schools or ways to escape.

But when one segregates, one creates a prison. School becomes a prison and one cannot succeed, one’s life is determined almost entirely by place of birth, by race and religion, things a child cannot control. Why can’t an Ethiopian Jew in Israel attend a kibbutz high school?  Why can’t the child of a migrant or a bedouin?  Because they have “their schools.”

The migrant classrooms in Tel Aviv are an abomination, a segregation, disgusting, abomination, a blight. But they are merely a symbol of a sickness called segregation. When one hears the mayor talk about the “foreigners” and the Prime Minister talk about the “infiltrators”, one sees how there is not even a discussion of ever allowing a bit of equality and integration. Permanent separation. And then articles will be written asking why migrants didn’t “integrate”?  Well, they were not permitted to integrate. They were put in classrooms only for them. You can’t integrate into a state that keeps you apart. Haredim cannot “integrate” when they are in Haredi-only schools. There is no integration.  Israel created a system of apartness, and then blames the people who are kept apart for being apart.  “Integrate into Israeli society.”  But how?  How can they?  They cannot climb the wall of acceptance, can never be allowed into others schools.

In Israel the left and right have slavish devotion to segregation.  They go abroad, these segregationists, and meet with “liberal Zionists” and talk democracy, and “values”, but no one dares ask them, ask the Meretz, Labor and Likud politicians, why is your entire system segregated?  Why did you create such a system?

At lest the next time you hear about “migrant students”, perhaps you will ask why do they need to have “their school”, why can’t they go to school with other children in Tel Aviv?



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