School Integration in Tel Aviv Worked, So Why Has the City Opted for Segregation?

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
The child of asylum seekers walks into a school in south Tel Aviv.
The child of asylum seekers walks into a school in south Tel Aviv.Credit: Hadas Forush

In the investigative story by Lee Yaron (“’The Integration Failed’”: Tel Aviv is segregating foreign kids at school”), the shame of the policy of segregated education in the Tel Aviv Municipality, which usually boasts of being liberal, open and progressive, was exposed.

Children of asylum seekers and foreigners, most of whom were born and grew up in Israel, study in separate schools, far from their Israeli peers. They have difficulty learning the language, acquiring basic reading and writing skills and becoming part of the social fabric. Not only do the children of asylum seekers suffer from segregation, so do our children, who are denied studying in a varied society of children and are being presented with an example of racial discrimination, which no euphemisms can erase.

It wasn’t always this way. In a municipality pilot program in the second half of the 2000s, the children of asylum seekers were transferred from the south of the city to schools in the north. Shirley Rimon, head of the municipality’s education department, claims in the article that the attempt failed dismally. This claim contradicts my experience as the mother of two children who had the good fortune to study in classes where such integration existed.

In my son Uri’s class there were two children of asylum seekers from 2009 to 2012. One of them became his good friend and spent many days in our house, until he was deported to South Sudan in 2012. The two children were successfully integrated into the class both educationally and socially; they were part of the group, their friends treated them with affection and they participated in class activities outside of school hours, and in activities in the Scouts group adjacent to the school.

In the class of my son Noam, six years later, there were also two children of asylum seekers. They were also popular with their friends, who admired their abilities on the soccer field, and they also participated in class activities outside of school hours.

In both cases the pilot succeeded even though the municipality made no effort to provide emotional, social and pedagogical support for either the children or the school staff. Our children had the good fortune to experience friendship with children who are both different from them and similar, to understand the essence of the similarity and the difference, an essential understanding for developing a pluralistic and accepting worldview, and to learn about a life that differs from theirs.

All this through playing and simple friendship. When Uri told me about the new boy in his class and about their developing friendship he didn’t even mention that his friend was an African child. That’s how children are, they know how to accept the simple things as self-evident.

Today the municipality is adopting a deliberate policy of segregation, which violates Israeli law and contradicts the policy of the Education Ministry. According to the municipality’s response, “If life were a Hollywood movie, the members of the foreign community with their children would be scattered among all the neighborhoods and cities in Israel.” Well, it turns out that I had the privilege of living in a Hollywood movie for a few years.

My son Uri is doing national service in a clubhouse in a school designated for asylum seekers, and is experiencing first-hand the results of the racial segregation in the city’s education system, the difficulty of learning the language in the absence of friends who speak it, the difficulty in acquiring reading and writing skills, and the absence of a horizon of integration beyond the example of their parents.

Instead of dreaming of becoming engineers, pilots, astronauts or doctors, they are shackled in the narrow perspective that their separate environment offers them. All that, while our children are closed up in white ghettoes, which don’t offer them a glimpse of a life that differs from theirs.

Attorney Leah Miller-Forstadt is a member of the board of directors of ASSAF - Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel.

Click the alert icon to follow topics: