Hundreds of Tel Aviv Parents Demand That Asylum Seeker Kids Be Integrated at School

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The Jordan elementary school in south Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood, December 2020.
The Jordan elementary school in south Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood, December 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Around 600 Tel Aviv parents have written to Mayor Ron Huldai to protest the segregation of children of asylum seekers and migrant workers in the city’s schools, after Haaretz reported on the issue Thursday.

Also, dozens of teachers from Tel Aviv’s Gymnasia Herzliya and Ironi Daled high schools are organizing a protest on the matter for next week.

The parents, who joined together within hours after the investigative report was published, also addressed the letter to the head of the city’s Education Department, Shirley Rimon.

“We, mothers and fathers, residents of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, were horrified to read the reports about the Tel Aviv municipality’s policy of separating Israeli children and asylum seekers’ children, of separating white children and Black children in the kindergartens and elementary schools,” they wrote. “We believe that this segregation of children is a black stain on our city’s educational heritage.”

The parents added: “The residents of Tel Aviv, of all its parts, parents and children, could together handle the challenges of an orderly integration of asylum seekers' children into the city’s education system, which in the end would benefit all the city’s children.”

According to the parents, city officials believe there is no chance that such integration can succeed, but the parents “know that diversity is important for our children, too. Now the city needs to lead the way.”

As Haaretz reported Thursday, 2,228 out of 2,433 children of asylum seekers and migrants – 91.5 percent – in Tel Aviv elementary schools attend schools for foreigners only, without a single Israeli. The 205 others are integrated with Israeli children at seven elementary schools in their neighborhoods, with their number falling within “the permitted quota.”

The school-district argument

Officially, Tel Aviv City Hall believes that segregation is out of the question. “The municipality insists on registration by geographic area and not by skin color,” a city official said, denying that there is any segregation policy.

“There is no school for the children of foreign workers and asylum seekers. There is a school for the Hatikva and Neveh Sha’anan neighborhoods .… The registration and school assignment policy in the city is the same for everyone.”

But other city officials have a different view. “Communities in the south of the city are exclusionary and don’t let them attend the regular schools,” said Sagit Shemesh, the deputy director for elementary education. “This is basically why we built schools for the foreign population.”

Rimon, the head of the city’s Education Department, says she opposes planned integration at schools in north and central Tel Aviv. “The African children look different from the other children. In the end, color encourages racism,” she said, adding that integration had failed in the city.

One mother who signed the letter was Orit Binderman Fehr, who lives in central Tel Aviv. Her youngest son is in fifth grade and studies at the Gavrieli school, and her older children are at Ironi Alef High School.

Parents there are angry about the city’s policy and believe it harms the children, she says. “The parents are upset and we all immediately realized that we wanted to do something about it to prevent the separation between the city’s children,” Binderman Fehr said.

“We believe that children don’t see differences in colors, only the adults. My son plays basketball with Maccabi and has met children who have bonded so much that he wants them with him in class.”

'Racist characterisics'

Orly Arosha, the mother of a daughter in fourth grade at Jaffa’s  Arabic-Hebrew school bilingual Kulna Yahad, also supports integration.

“We need to do integration, not throw the kids into schools but to guide and explain. The parents are very open to the idea at her school, which has a number of asylum-seeker families who moved to Jaffa,” Arosha said.

“They’re received in an amazing way, they want to be part of Israeli society and we want them. When the children meet, they connect, mix with one another. Instead of creating separation, we need to integrate them in all parts of the city.”

The principal of Gymnasia Herzliya, Ze’ev Degani, is also very critical. The segregation the city has created “has racist characteristics, even if it’s unaware of it,” he said, adding that the Israeli children are losing out too because they’re missing out on cultural and intellectual opportunities.

Degani announced that next week dozens of students from Keshet, one of the schools on Hamasger Street that’s filled solely with asylum-seeker kids, will be coming to his school for a day. He also plans on bringing them over once a week for several hours of art class with the Gymnasia students.

He, too, criticizes the government’s policies. “The message of racism comes from above,” Degani said. “When the interior minister wants to deport children born in Israel, he sends a message that it’s legitimate to conduct a policy of segregated education …. We must remember that they came here out of a lack of choice, and we who suffered in the history of the Jewish people from such treatment now dare to do it to others.”

Luciana Kaplun, an artist and teacher at the Gymnasia – and the mother of a daughter in a city preschool – said that integrating the children of asylum seekers and migrants benefited all the children.

“Segregation does an injustice to all the kids. At the Gymnasia, everyone studies together, it creates for the children the empathy we’re missing in Israeli society,” she said. “I want my daughter to be educated in mixed frameworks. I’m an immigrant from Argentina, but Jewish. There’s nothing more beautiful than differences and a multiplicity of cultures.”

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