When Israel's Education Minister Said a Jewish Child Is Worth Twice as Much as an Arab Child

Declassification of Israel's 1948 government discussions expose origins of discrimination in the country's education system

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A 1949 cabinet meeting.
A 1949 cabinet meeting. Credit: Hugo Mendelsohn / GPO

This week, government discussions in 1948 were declassified, exposing the roots of discrimination in Israel's education system that still persists today.

Other minutes from this period show Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett saying that the treatment of the Arab minority is a complete failure.

“Every Hebrew child in a classroom costs 27.7 liras on average…according to education standards among Arabs, each one of their children costs 15 liras.” These were the words of the first Minister of Education and Culture and later Israel’s third president, Zalman Shazar, during a concluding discussion held by the government of the nascent state in 1949, ahead of legislation on mandatory schooling.

In response, Finance Minister Eliezer Kaplan warned about such a discriminatory attitude: “How can we at this point, while establishing a law regulating education, determine two levels of schooling?” he wondered. “The government decided on equal wages for Arab laborers, and I want to understand and know what you’re suggesting, how will this work? Did the minister calculate that we’ll spend 28 liras on a Jewish child per year, making do with only 15 liras for an Arab child? How can we accept these numbers without knowing how we’ve arrived at them?”

Israeli middle school students.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Shazar explained that “educating an Arab child is less expensive than educating a Jewish one,” but warned that he couldn’t discriminate between Arab and Jewish teachers when it came to wages. “I don’t know for how long we can maintain two levels of teachers’ salaries,” he said.

Later, Shazar warned about some schools in Israel that don’t teach in Hebrew at all. “This is an abnormal situation. We can’t create a separate and segregated tribe here, which isn’t part of the cultural life of this country. The state should do something so that these schools can continue operating, but only in Hebrew.” He added that there were thousands of neglected children in Israel, who would become “criminals” in the absence of mandatory schooling.

Under wraps for no reason

In the 72 years that have passed since these discussions took place, some of the minutes remained classified. This week they were declassified, following an appeal by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian conflict research, which in recent years has made strides in unearthing classified documents, making them accessible to the public and researchers. The institute’s executive director Lior Yavne turned to Israel’s Chief Archivist Dr. Ruth Avramovitz last April, claiming that these minutes are censored illegally.

According to the law, the classification of cabinet meetings is limited to 30 years. This means that the State Archives should have published all the minutes of cabinet meetings from 1948 to 1990. In practice, the State Archives are lagging far behind. So far, full minutes have only been released up to 1967, along with a few from the 1970s. However, published material includes many censored sections, which precludes full perusal of these documents.

In research conducted by Akevot, it turned out that no fewer than 80 minutes of cabinet meetings from 1948 and 1949 still contain censored sections. This week, the State Archives declassified several pages of minutes from those years, but other sections remain classified.

Discrimination persists

In recent years, the Education Ministry has been working on closing gaps and allocating budgets according to the socio-economic clusters to which students belong. In practice, discrimination persists since local authorities continue to determine a significant part of the investment in schools – and there remain large gaps between municipalities. A student in Tel Aviv, for example, gets more from his municipality than a student in Umm al-Fahm. Thus, even if the ministry’s dry facts point to closing gaps, with even some preference given to minorities, there are still significant disparities in the budgets of wealthier communities in comparison to economically weaker ones.

In high schools there is still some discrimination by the Ministry of Education as well, since changes in budgeting are only expected to take effect soon, following a recent cabinet decision to reduce gaps between Jewish and Arab communities.

It seems that in contrast to Israel's first education minister, Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett was worried about these gaps. In declassified minutes one can find his statements warning about the maladies Israeli society is still afflicted with. Thus, on May 3, 1949, Sharett said that “the treatment of the Arab minority is a complete failure so far.”

The rest of the sentence is classified, but Sharett later adds; “I am concerned and very depressed over this matter. This is a minority that’s greatly suffering from unemployment, lacking freedom of movement, etc. I’m not saying that Israel cannot accept a minority of 120,000 people and that it can’t allow them a decent life, but this demands that we make great efforts and devote constant and active attention to this problem. We can’t have a minority that is not represented in government offices, in the police force, in the legal system, etc.”

Sharett concluded with a warning, noting that Israeli society has an obligation to improve itself. “If we don’t, we’re making a mockery of all our declarations, turning them into lip service,” he said. “It’s better not to promise anything than to promise and not fulfill what we’ve committed to.”

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott