Ethiopian students' protest - David Sheen - 1/9/2011
Ethiopian students protesting near a Petah Tikva school in 2011. They were eventually accepted - but their education still lags behind. Photo by David Sheen
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Alon Ron
Ethiopian parents protesting near the Ner Etzion school in Petah Tikva, Sept. 1, 2011. Photo by Alon Ron

The Israeli government is perpetuating the segregation of Ethiopian children in the public school system, protesting Petah Tikva parents said on Thursday, following their decision to keep their children away from the first day of school.

The 150 demonstrators marched toward the Petah Tikvah city hall waving banners that read "No to racism, no to ghettos, no to discrimination".

Speaking during a rally held near the city's Ner Etzion elementary school, parents spoke against the Education Ministry's decision to keep the school open, despite recent governmental moves to shut down schools with a predominantly Ethiopian population in order to advance the integration of children of Ethiopian descent into Israel society.

One student said at the protest that the state had not "educated me well. My dream is to be a chemistry professor but I can't make from here," saying: "We are being isolated so that we only study with other Ethiopians."

The protest near the Petah Tikva school came after Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced earlier this week that the Education Ministry was beginning to close schools in which a significant majority of pupils are of Ethiopian origin, as a result of discrimination emerging in various schools and parent struggles over the issue.

In response to the parents' protest, the Petah Tikva municipality said that the city had successfully relocated 120 of Ner Etzion's 280 pupils, saying that those who had remained in the school are either new immigrants and those who specifically asked to remain there.

The Education Ministry, in turn, said that what the parents were opposing was in fact not the ministry's unwillingness to shut the school down, but their opposition to the relocation of their children to other schools.

In explaining the move to close mostly Ethiopian schools, Sa'ar blamed on Tuesday "the creation of homogeneous schools," as he put it, on the concentration of Ethiopian immigrants in specific neighborhoods and towns, court rejection of integration policies that had been attempted by former Education Minister Limor Livnat and racism, which "spurred other families to abandon these schools.

"I have thus instructed all the [ministry's] district directors to prepare, within a month, a multiyear plan that will fundamentally change this reality by closing down schools in which all, or the overwhelming majority, of pupils are from the Ethiopian community," he said.

"It's true most schools are integrated, but if there are even 20 schools and kindergartens like this, it's a phenomenon that must be changed," he said. "We have the cooperation of the Ethiopian community for this.

"It's true that in certain cases, parents would prefer to have their child study in the neighborhood and avoid transportation, but, except in rare cases, it's best for the children to be integrated," he said.

Sa'ar's address was interrupted by hecklers who argued that the Education Ministry had cut 10 days from the special education school schedule, but he denied this, saying that at issue was a request to add 10 more days that has not yet been approved.

In this context Sa'ar referred to the social protest, saying "Today, under the rubric of 'the protest,' one can say anything and get away with it...[but] personal attacks will not bend the system and change things."

At the conference, which was sponsored by the Haaretz group of local newspapers in conjunction with the Haifa municipality, the municipality for the first time awarded an education prize to an outstanding school, and the winner was Hugim High School. The NIS 250,000 prize will be divided among the school's teachers.