Israeli City Blocking African Migrants From Registering Children for Preschool, Petition Alleges

Municipality making illegal demands from Eritrean parents trying to register their children for school, says migrant support group; those who are allowed to register are districted far from home.

A child in a swing at a preschool in Petah Tikva. (Nir Keidar)
Nir Keidar

The Petah Tikva municipality is blocking Eritrean migrants from registering their children for public preschool in the city, according to an urgent petition filed with the Central District Court.

The petition, filed by The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants along with 10 Eritrean asylum seekers, calls on the Petah Tikva municipality and the Education Ministry to allow the parents to register their children for school.

The petition states that the Petah Tikva municipality has deliberately made it difficult for African migrants to register their children for preschool in the city. For example, the city required parents to submit signed forms from their landlords stating that they are not renting space in a subdivided apartment — even though this demand is against the law, and contrary to Education Ministry regulations. Landlords have refused to sign the document for their own reasons, or have refused to have the signature notarized.

The petitioners also state that they reached out to Education Minister Naftali Bennett and senior Education Ministry officials, including the ministry director general, its legal adviser and the district manager, but that they were ignored. The officials “did not choose to use their authority to address the matter,” states the petition.

The city’s insinuation that the migrants are falsifying their place of residence is “extremely serious,” and shows the Petah Tikva municipality may be motivated by racism, states the petition.

“Would asylum seekers, of all people, who are on the lowest socioeconomic rung in Israel, really seek to falsify their place of residence in order to register their children for Petah Tikva preschools? Do the decision makers in the city and the Education Ministry see groups of asylum seekers coming in nice cars from their homes in other cities in order to transport their children to Petah Tikva? The answers are clear,” states the petition.

The petitioners also say that in cases where the city did register migrants’ children for school, they were assigned to two schools far from the rest of the city’s children, and far from their place of residence. One school is also designated for children ages 3-6, which is not the norm for Israeli preschools.

Attorney Haran Reichman of the University of Haifa Law and Education Policy Clinic is representing the petitioners.

“The Petah Tikva municipality’s conduct in not registering asylum seekers’ children and the school assignments given to those who were allowed to register indicates that discriminatory decisions are being made based on nationality and race. Such conduct is unacceptable, and we hope the court will firmly denounce this despicable conduct,” said Reichman. “It is equally concerning that the heads of the education system in Israel who are aware of this discrimination and grave violation of the law are not doing anything about it, and not ensuring that these children are placed in preschool where they belong. And this is a week after they announced that the school year in Israel opened ‘without any problems.’”

“These children should not be held hostage to a failed policy,” added attorney Assaf Weitzan of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. “It’s hard enough being the child of an asylum seeker in Israel. The city and the Education Ministry must make sure that these children are accepted to preschool immediately. At the same time, the government as a whole must provide an appropriate response to the issue of the asylum seekers, in a way that respects them and the Israeli public, and gives asylum seekers basic rights in accordance with Israel’s international commitments.”