School children
The Israeli school year begins Monday August 27, 2012. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Representatives of the Education Ministry, the Eilat municipality and migrant advocacy organizations are scheduled to tell the Supreme Court today whether they have reached agreement on integrating the children of foreign migrant workers into the city's schools. This follows the appeal by the state and the city of a recent Be'er Sheva District Court ruling requiring Eilat to enroll these children in its regular schools, rather than placing them in a separate facility as it has for the past four years. While one can understand Eilat's difficulties with the migrants who live and work within its borders, educational segregation is an unacceptable solution. Still more regrettable is the enthusiasm with which the Education Ministry promoted this segregation, which renders hollow the principle of equality that is supposed to apply to all people, including migrants entered the country illegally.

Remarks by the justices in Thursday's session suggest that they are uncomfortable with the ministry's segregation. "I don't know what would happen in another country were a certain ethnic group, not Jews, told to send its children to other schools and not to the regular school system," Justice Yoram Danziger said. It can only be hoped that the Education Ministry heard the message and changes its position.

No one disputes the difficulty of the educational inclusion of children from different backgrounds and with different cultures, languages and needs. But this is the essence of the educational enterprise, which seeks to bridge these gaps rather than ridding itself of them as the ministry has tried to do, while pretending to provide a superior service. There is no such thing as separate but equal when it comes to education. The justices were right to ask whether there is a difference between integrating the migrant children into Eilat's regular school system and the absorption in past years of children of Jewish Ethiopian origin in schools around the country.

This capitulation by the ministry that is responsible for education to the fear of the Eilat municipality and of many parents of the migrants' children cannot be tolerated. The ministry must recognize that its duty is to include those who are different, not to keep them out of sight and out of mind.