Blame Israel's Schools for the Racism

Young people shouting 'Death to Arabs' prove the success of the educational system more than its failure.

Or Kashti
Or Kashti
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Israeli Education Minister Shay Piron.
Former Education Minister Shay Piron.Credit: Michal Fattal
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

At the order of the Education Ministry, on September 1 and during the days that follow, schools will discuss “the events of the summer,” a mixture of fun activities addressing “phenomena of racism and incitement,” and last but not least, a little “Jewish national identity.”

These are the boundaries of discourse as defined by Education Minister Shay Piron during his appearance before the Knesset Education Committee last week. It’s possible that by the time school actually starts, the teachers will be given more details about what it’s permitted to speak with pupils about, and what subjects they’d be better off avoiding, lest we have a rerun of the Adam Verete incident. (Verete, a teacher in the Ort network, was called to disciplinary hearings earlier this year for allegedly criticizing the army in his class.)

While these are positive steps, they have no impact. Homeroom classes in which they’ll talk about racism are no better than cupping glasses; they’re meant to give people the feeling that the educational system is being mobilized to change reality. But it’s not really so. Because the changes required, which must go far deeper, contradict the fundamental processes Piron is leading.

Anti-Arab racism and anti-leftist incitement did not start this summer. Nor are they the product of an educational “error.” They are what could be expected from an educational system that for decades has been subject to a single narrative and a single curriculum and flees from any effort to confront multiple points of view.

Young people shouting “Death to Arabs” prove the success of the educational system more than its failure. Such youths have internalized an aggressive worldview in which the strong side erases the “other” – be he Arab, poor or Mizrahi (a Jew of Middle Eastern origin) – just like they saw in school. Thus, in schools they recite Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which promises equal rights regardless of religion, race, or gender, but ignore the inequality between Jews and Arabs; they praise “equality of opportunity” for all, but don’t address the gaps between pupils from different socioeconomic backgrounds; they praise “national unity,” but marginalize the history of large swaths of the population.

We’re not just talking about raising consciousness. The more the state retreats from its responsibility for education, the stronger the relationship becomes between socioeconomic background and educational achievement. One can merely glance at the list of those cities with the highest rates of pupil matriculation to understand how badly the educational system has failed to reduce social gaps. It’s no coincidence that it’s been years since the Education Ministry even tried to formulate a comprehensive plan to address this, preferring to implement localized projects, often privatized.

The newest list of parent payments, which Piron approved a few months ago, can be expected to intensify these processes. Allowing dozens of specialized schools to charge 7,000 shekels a year and increasing the number of study hours designated “additional curriculum,” to be funded by parents, will create better schools and study tracks that will be open primarily to pupils from well-off families.

In an educational system that sorts children by their parents’ economic capacity, lessons on equality become hollow. Educational segregation – by curricula, geographic location, and future education and income prospects – creates social apathy and lays the groundwork for the next round of loyalty laws.

The events of recent weeks have demonstrated the results of this one-dimensional education. It’s not enough to “talk about” racism in a class or two, as part of the comfortable, automatic solution that the Education Ministry pulls out of its hat every time reality seeps into the classroom. To battle waves of hatred requires new educational thinking, not only about the relationship between Jews and Arabs, but in the broader context of the balance of power in Israeli society – between rich and poor, the center and the periphery, and Ashkenazim and Mizrahim.

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