Israel Failing in Coexistence, Anti-racism Education, State Comptroller Says

Says Education Ministry's meager work to promote coexistence is particularly regrettable given rise in stereotyping and racism among school children.

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Students and parents pose for a photo with a poster bearing Education Minister Naftali Bennett's image on the first day of school in Tamra, September 2016.
Students and parents pose for a photo with a poster bearing Education Minister Naftali Bennett's image on the first day of school in Tamra, September 2016. Credit: Gil Eliahu

The state comptroller’s upcoming report on coexistence education takes a dim view of the Education Ministry’s efforts in that area. Covering a 20-year period but focusing mainly on the terms of the previous minister, Shay Piron, and the current minister, Naftali Bennett, the report describes more than ongoing failure; it states that the Education Ministry has consciously chosen to bury the issue of education toward coexistence and prevention of racism.

Among the issues the state comptroller examined are the formulation of long-term, system-wide programs for tolerance and coexistence and against racism. It also examined whether the ministry is measuring students’ attitudes in this realm and whether coexistence and anti-racism have been incorporated into a number of subjects, such as history and civics. It scrutinized the ministry’s teacher training in coexistence and whether encounters were being held between students of various societal groups.

The comptroller’s report found that although in the late 1990s, the Education Ministry officially adopted the Kremnitzer Report, which called for an overhaul of civics education in Israel, it was never implemented. The ministry has not formulated tools to methodically assess the extent of racism in the education system, nor to follow up on anti-racism action, if any, in the school system, the report states.

As Haaretz reported, Bennett stopped the development of a new index to measure racism among teens. The index was conceived by the ministry’s chief scientist, Prof. Ami Volansky, who was forced to step down at the beginning of this year. The report states that since the 2000s, the ministry has devised a number of activities to promote tolerance and coexistence, but these were either not put into practice at all or only to a very limited extent and without addressing the problem of racism among schoolchildren. For example, former Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar froze the recommendations of a public committee established by his predecessor, Yuli Tamir, and which had been approved, at least in principle, by former Education Ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani, whom Sa’ar himself had appointed.

The comptroller’s report also criticizes the ministry’s failure to fund, staff or implement the curriculum “The Other Is Me” announced by Piron. Although its goal was to deal with key rifts in society and bring together various groups, some 60 percent of its programs used by schools did not address these divisions.

No follow-through

The report also points out that although ministry director general Michal Cohen approved the principles of the coexistence program in November 2014, by August 2015, when the comptroller finished his assessment, the steering committee had not formulated the main components that would have allowed the program to begin. Neither did the ministry allocate the necessary funding or teaching hours. According to a source familiar with the issue, the program has yet to be completed.

The comptroller also pointed out that the Society and Youth Administration, responsible for informal education, decided not to include coexistence in its work plans. This is the same body that is responsible for programs such as “Gush Katif Day,” “We Ascend to Jerusalem” and “The Mountains as the Cradle of the Nation,” which promote a religious-national identity, and are directed mainly at pupils in the state secular school system.

The report states that the ministry’s meager work to promote coexistence and fight racism is particularly regrettable given the complexity of Israeli society; the increasing manifestations of anti-democratic, stereotyped views; the expressions of racism among schoolchildren; and because guidelines in these matters were given to the ministry 20 years ago and re-approved in recent years as well.

The comptroller’s report calls for the establishment of a senior steering committee in the Education Ministry to set overall policy and follow up on its implementation; set indices to examine racism in the school system and complete system-wide programs as quickly as possible on issues of social rifts and in particular coexistence between Jews and Arabs; increase encounters between Jewish and Arab students; and allocate funding and human resources to these issues.

To effect the necessary changes, the ministry’s leadership, the report states, must issue immediate messages and actions throughout the education system, and work intensively and methodically on education against racism and toward coexistence.

The Education Ministry responded that it “regards education toward democracy and coexistence and the fight against racism as a key value in the framework of the ministry’s strategic program this has been given emphasis.” The ministry said an “overall work plan has been defined that will obligate all units, including tasks and indexes.”

The ministry said it has established a “racism index,” but did not provide details of its implementation. The NGO Sikkuy, which promotes educational policy toward coexistence, said the comptroller’s report “stresses the urgent need to inculcate education tools for coexistence, not just initiatives here and there,” and that all teacher training and in-service training include this content.