Jerusalem College Segregates Arabs and Jews on Its 'Multicultural' Campus

Arab students say there is almost no interaction with Jewish students on campus: 'Academia should be an open place, but here Jews and Arabs study separately. The multicultural campus is only for the advertisements'

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The Jerusalem campus of Ono College, this week.
The Jerusalem campus of Ono College, this week.Credit: Emil Salman

In the breaks between classes, students fill the small yard at the entrance to building No. 4 in Technology Park in Jerusalem’s Malha neighborhood. This is the site the Ono Academic College calls the “multicultural campuses.”

A few days a week most of the students here are Arabs, mainly from East Jerusalem. Dozens of them told Haaretz this week that the classes they attend are segregated – Arabs-only.

“I’ve never studied with Jews,” says a third-year student studying auditing, a branch of accounting. His colleague says: “The studies are all segregated. I don’t know if it’s good or bad; it’s how it is.”

A sign points to the “Haredi campus” in a building some 100 meters away. “That’s the Jews’ building. Arabs don’t go in there,” another student says.

It seems that the college, which has a reputation for gender segregation, sees no difficulty in separating between Jews and Arabs either. In both cases, the college says it’s about “suitability” and “consideration.”

The Jerusalem branch of Ono Academic College offers 22 courses in business management, law and education, some for a second degree as well, in morning and evening classes, usually twice a week. The Facebook page of an Arab education NGO, which directs users to the various programs, lists the accounting program in business management, promising “full preparation for the Hebrew language” and “assistance in finding a job in the field of study.”

The college refused to give information on the total number of students in the compound, or the proportion of Jews to Arabs. “We have no way of knowing who’s Arab. It’s not cataloged,” a college official said.

This claim is difficult to accept. Ono prides itself on having a special administration that accompanies Arab students “from the moment they register to graduation,” a college official told Haaretz. As far as is known, the college is also required to submit periodic reports to the Council of Higher Education.

The impression given by the website is that there are several hundred students there. It says the annual tuition for a B.A. ranges from 25,000 to 30,000 shekels ($8,000 to $9,600) – two to three times more than in a public college.

The Haredi campus of Ono College in Jerusalem.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

An official familiar with the assistance to Arab students says the segregation begins in the orientation and registration stage. “There are two [orientation and registration] centers – one general and one specific to Arabs,” he says. “An Arab student who comes to the general center and speaks good Hebrew can choose to study with the Jews or in the Arab groups. They don’t prevent you from studying with the Jews, but you have to make an effort to do so. A student who registers at the Arab center is directed only to the Arab groups. They don’t tell him he can study with Jews.”

As for specializing in auditing as part of business management, the college’s Jerusalem campus said “there’s only one course, which is open to all the students who are interested.” In reality, it seems that this degree is for Arabs only.

This impression is strengthened in the orientation and registration offices, located on the first floor of building No. 4. “We have degrees in education, business management and accounting and law,” an official told an Arab who was interested in enrolling this week. “If you want to study in the evenings I’ll move you to the Jews’ registration section, where the studies are in Hebrew only.”

In contrast, the Arab program promises that “in all the degrees, you study in Arabic, except for law and some of the accounting classes,” she said. The Hebrew lectures “have no translation into Arabic. The (Arab) students help each other.”

On the other hand, in accounting “all the lecturers are Arabs. Only in the second year will there be a few Jewish lecturers.”

No interaction

In the yard, the students say they are segregated throughout their years of study. An Arab accounting student beginning his third year says: “We study only with Arabs. Half to 75 percent of the lessons are in Arabic, with Arab lecturers. The Jewish lecturers sometimes have translators who tell us the terms in Arabic. That’s not good. We have to study together. That’s the only way to learn Hebrew. It’s not enough to hear the Jewish lecturer.”

Ono refused to give details on the range of classes in Hebrew and in Arabic.

The Jerusalem campus of Ono College, this week.Credit: Emil Salman

Many Arab students say they want to study with Jews – not so much for ideological reasons but to learn Hebrew and be able to join the Israeli labor market. “When I graduate I don’t want to work only with Arabs. I have to know Hebrew. I must practice the language,” says one.

Some business management students say they were told in advance that they would be studying only with Arabs. Some were disappointed, others resigned themselves to it for lack of choice. A few thought it would be easier, others were promised that after the first year they would be integrated and Hebrew studies would be emphasized.

“That did not happen,” a third-year student says. Other students weren’t aware of the option of joint Jewish-Arab studies.

A few Arab students say there is almost no interaction between the Arab and Jewish students on campus. “I suppose we study the same material, (but) there aren’t any joint classes,” says one. “At the most we say ‘hi’ to each other between classes, but that doesn’t happen much. We don’t talk to each other. Academia should be an open place, but here Jews and Arabs study separately. The multicultural campus is only for the advertisements.”

A campus official says that in the past, all students were asked if they’d agree to joint Jewish-Arab studies. “On both sides some objected, and two to three years ago we stopped asking,” he says.

A senior official in one of the country’s universities says segregation on the basis of nationality or religion “is contrary to academic principles.” Apart from that, such a large range of classes in Arabic “isn’t right academically. The goal is to integrate these students in the Israeli, Hebrew-speaking labor market. Studying in Arabic doesn’t help the Arab students, but locks in their difficulties. They are entitled to all the support and assistance possible, but not in segregated studies.”

“This isn’t integration, it’s exclusion,” said another senior university official.

In 2017 the Council for Higher Education approved Ono Academic College’s request to operate the Jerusalem campus, in place of another institution that had closed down. This was conditioned on “maintaining a joint study format for East Jerusalem’s Arabs and the general population, which would be held in Hebrew.”

Ono was criticized some years ago for failing to act in accordance with the council’s regulations on segregation of ultra-Orthodox students. Last summer the High Court of Justice denied Ono’s request to lift the restrictions on segregated studies for Haredim.

The Jerusalem campus of Ono College.Credit: Emil Salman

Students who attended a class with Dr. Eyal Maoz, deputy dean of teaching and study programs at Ono, said he boasted of the separate classes for Arabs this week. According to the students, Maoz said: “Just as we did [a separate campus] for Haredim – we’re doing for Arabs from East Jerusalem. We shouldn’t force them to study in Hebrew. We must respect the Haredim’s wish not to study with women and men together, and the Arabs’ desire to study in Arabic and separately.”

Both Maoz and Ono College refused to comment on his alleged statement about the separate courses.

Neither did the college respond to the Arab students’ testimony or to other questions. However, a college official told Haaretz anonymously: “Contrary to your claim, we have no segregated studies. All the degrees are open to all the populations.

“The students from East Jerusalem have difficulties in Hebrew,” the official continued. “Some of them have no knowledge of the language and we must find solutions. The integration process also consists of a specific student administration, which takes into account the students’ academic and cultural background. The students undergo a process of studying Hebrew ... to ensure they succeed in their studies…”

“The attempt to say there’s segregation and discrimination among the students is the complete opposite of what the college does and of its worldview,” the Ono official asserted. “The equality principle requires providing service and mediation in Arabic to non-Hebrew speakers. That is in fact the key to their integration.”

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