Jerusalem Teachers Warn of Increase in Racism After Gaza War

Staff concerned that Education Ministry lesson plans not enough to combat racist comments at start of school year.

Emil Salman

Teachers in Jerusalem say they are concerned about facing more racism than ever before in the capital’s schools, especially following Operation Protective Edge. As the school year opens, the Education Ministry has published lesson plans on racism to be taught during the first two weeks, but many teachers say that is not enough.

R. is a junior high teacher in the Jerusalem area. Like other teachers Haaretz spoke with, he asked that his name not be used so he could speak more freely. R. says the expressions of racism were harsh in the WhatsApp group he started to keep in touch with his students.

“The whole thing that started with the kidnapping and murder of the three boys in the West Bank happened over summer vacation, and that’s terrible in the sense that it left the students alone in the battle against the media and the blitz on social media, and did not allow educators to mediate the reality,” he said.

R. told Haaretz that he used the racist comments as a basis for debate instead of silencing them, using WhatsApp in an unorthodox manner as a tool of informal education. R. says he has to deal with calls for violence against Arabs and accusations that he’s a “bleeding-heart leftist,” as well as with anger that has no other outlet. “The fact that I allow the students to make extremist remarks doesn’t mean they are right,” he says. “But if they don’t use me to deal with these issues they won’t use anyone, and they will remain with their baseless opinions and childish emotions.”

R. says he objects to what he says is the Education Ministry’s directive not to broach explosive subjects in the classroom. “I have students who say in every class, ‘Let’s talk about Arabs.’ It preoccupies them and they have no solution.”

T., another Jerusalem area junior high teacher, says, “I have students who took part in violent acts or right-wing demonstrations. I have a student who has a police file because of a hate crime.” Other teachers at her school sometimes openly make racist statements, T. says, and some tell her that workshops on racism are a waste of time, “that we are at war with the Arabs, and they don’t see the importance of these programs.”

Groups of teachers have gotten together in various parts of the country to work on the issue of racism at the beginning of the school year. Last week, at a meeting in Jerusalem, two groups – Tnuat Hamorim and Hameorer – handed out lesson plans on racism, filling what they say is a void left by the Education Ministry.

Rani Hazon Weiss, a teacher at the Givat Gonen High School in the capital and a member of the leadership of Tnuat Hamorim, who took part in the meeting in Jerusalem, said the subject of racism is not a new one at her school, where some of the students are members of La Familia, an extremist group of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team. “I saw many teachers trying to deal with the same problems, and so we decided to meet so we, the teachers, would have someone to talk to,” she said.

Weiss said a representative of the Education Ministry came to talk to one of the groups, which she considered very important. At that meeting, she said, the teachers discussed “what to do when students say ‘Death to Arabs’ – which they do frequently – and we gave each other the benefit of our experience. We talked about giving the students the knowledge they lack – such as, what is Hamas, what is the West Bank? These things should be part of the subjects they are taught.”

Report: Arab education system lacks classrooms

The Arab education system currently lacks about one third of the classrooms it needs and two-thirds of kindergarten classrooms, according to a new report by the civic equality nonprofit Sikkuy.

A March 2007 cabinet decision stated that, by 2011, financing for 8,000 new classrooms would be secured, at a cost of 4.6 billion shekels (about $1.3 billion), 39 percent of which (3,200 classrooms) were to have been built to meet needs in the Arab education system. In fact, only 2,608 classrooms were built in total between 2007 and 2011, and even at that time the need already outstripped the initial 8,000 classrooms budgeted for.

The report, compiled from official statistics, states that 4,502 classrooms out of the total of 15,573 classrooms in Arab schools are operating in rented premises or prefabricated structures. Rental costs are depleting the already meager budgets of the Education Ministry and municipalities, instead of channeling resources to classroom construction and educational programming, Sikkuy notes.

Over the past decade, some 80 percent of rented classrooms were in the Arab education system. As of 2012, 20,323 children in the Arab education system studied in rented classrooms, as opposed to 4,152 Jewish children.

Arab students also lag behind Jewish students in terms of computers per child. In 2000, the Education Ministry set a goal of one computer for every five children. As of 2011, an average of 12 children were sharing one computer in the Jewish secular system, nine children in the Jewish religious system, and 20 children in the Arab system. The only sector with a higher ratio of students to computers is the ultra-Orthodox one, with 32 children per computer.