For Jews and Arabs, Israel’s School System Remains Separate and Unequal

The cutting of funding for Arab teachers’ colleges is only the latest sign.

Or Kashti
Or Kashti
Students at Haifa University (illustrative).
Students at Haifa University (illustrative).Credit: Doron Golan/Jini
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

Naftali Bennett likes to tweet that he’s “the education minister of all Israeli children.” But the decision to give Arab teachers’ colleges in the north only about half the funding per student compared to other teachers’ colleges casts doubt on that statement. Arab students already suffer budgetary discrimination in elementary and high school, and now this discrimination is being extended to higher education.

The ministry has thus unapologetically evolved from empty declarations about equality to different policies for Jews and Arabs. The message is the same as the one sent by the new civics textbook: The Arab minority’s status in Israel will always be different and limited.

The Education Ministry isn’t solely to blame for the inequality in the job market that has resulted in a glut of Arabs becoming teachers. But it’s hard to accept the ministry’s claim that the thousands of unemployed Arab teachers require it to cut funding for Arab teachers’ colleges.

“We have to deal with reality. And that exemplifies the problem: Instead of changing reality, he accepts it,” said the ministry’s deputy director general, Eyal Ram.

“We spent many hours thinking about this,” he added. It’s frightening to consider what ideas another discussion of the issue might have produced.

The ministry’s arguments are outrageous in part because it has given up – happily, some would say – on efforts to place Arab teachers in Jewish schools. Only a few Arabs teach at Jewish schools, and most teach Arabic; that fact is testimony to the ministry’s failure.

Separation between Jews and Arabs in the school system remains almost hermetic.

But despite the contribution it would make to coexistence, placing Arab teachers in Jewish schools isn’t the only option.

On average, Arab schools have more students per class than Jewish schools do – 28.1 versus 26.8, as of 2014. Some of this overcrowding could be solved by building new classrooms, which of course would also require new teachers. But proposals for doing exactly that have been gathering dust in the offices of senior ministry officials for at least 10 years; there’s always something more urgent on which to spend the money.

Meanwhile, from elementary school up, Jewish students receive more state funding than their Arab peers. In high school, per-student funding in 2013-14 was 35 percent to 68 percent higher for Jews than for Arabs at the same socioeconomic level. That statistic comes from the Education Ministry itself.

The most generous per-student funding goes to the state religious schools. But it’s not clear whether considerations of economic efficiency, to which the ministry has suddenly become devoted regarding Arab teachers’ colleges, will also be applied to the vast network of Orthodox Jewish teachers’ colleges. In the past, senior ministry officials have said this network needs to be pruned. But those proposals too have been shelved.

Issues such as the surplus of Arab teachers and their placement in Jewish schools ought to be the province of the Arab Education Council, which was founded in 1996 by then-Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein to help the minister “formulate policy ... that will ensure the equal status of Israel’s Arab citizens.”

But after a brief spate of activity, most of the council’s members resigned. They have never been replaced, even though the regulation mandating the council’s existence remains in force. And in the absence of such consultation, Bennett and his people are free to make any decision they want.

About eight months ago, MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) asked Bennett to staff the council. To this day, he says, he hasn’t gotten any real answer, nor did the ministry respond to Haaretz’s question on the matter. Once again, the mask has been lifted.

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