Only State-run Jewish-Arab School Threatened With Closure

School supporters say that instead of backing the school the TA municipality 'prefers to let demographics' shut it down.

The only public elementary school in Israel with both Arab and Jewish students may shut down because of lack of support from the Tel Aviv municipality, according to parents and teachers at the school.

Weizmann School in central Jaffa is the only school in the country with a mixed Arab-Jewish student body with a below-average socioeconomic background. There are several private integrated schools that cater to students whose families are middle-class and above.

The Jaffa school has about 350 students, from preschool to sixth grade, with roughly equal number of Arabs and Jews.

"The Ministry of Education and [Tel Aviv] City Hall have not unequivocally stated that they intend to uphold this unique model, which can and should be emulated in other schools," Hagit Gur-Ziv of Tel Aviv's Seminar Hakibbutzim, the Kibbutz Teachers College said. She has been working with the school for a number of years. "There's no real backing. [The ministry and the municipality] should be leading the change," she said. A teacher at Weizmann concurred, saying "The policy of City Hall is to have no policy."

Other sources connected to the school said that the city's decision to allow Jewish parents from Jaffa to send their children to schools outside their school zone indicates a lack of faith in Weizmann on its part. They also said the municipality was refusing to give a clear answer regarding the school's future.

"It's hard to believe we're in late April already and no decision has been made. Each and every day we are losing Jewish pupils whose parents fear the school might close," one figure close to the school said. "Instead of taking pride in us and advertising the school, the municipality prefers to let demographics dictate its course and to shut it down."

A second teacher said that if the school was closed it would represent the loss of a great opportunity. "And in the long run, it would also kill any attempt in the future to create integrated education," she said.

One Jewish parent, however, said, "There are too many Arab kids in this school. It's a Jewish school after all, and it's important for us that it stays this way. No Jewish parent would agree for his child to be in the minority. Some are already running away because of the number of Arabs."

Tel Aviv municipality yesterday rejected the claims, but refused to guarantee the future of Weizmann beyond the next school year. Sources in the municipality said the reason for the uncertainty was the diminishing number of Jews in the neighborhood served by the school. "The Jewish population in the school must be strengthened. The way to do this is to give the school a unique Jewish character that does not harm the Arab pupils. This can be achieved through cooperating with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Reform movement," one official said.

Representatives from the Reform movement, which recently established a new youth hostel and study center in Jaffa, are reportedly meeting with school officials to work out an agreement to enable members to send their preschool-age children to Weizmann.