Netanyahu’s Greatest Assault

Students in Tayibe, an Arab-majority city in central Israel, December 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Lisbon on Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss policy against Iran. A day earlier, Netanyahu met with Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz to discuss the possibility of establishing a unity government. Meanwhile, he made sure that the people around him continued to incite against the man who dared to announce that he would challenge him for the Likud party leadership – Gideon Sa’ar.

Netanyahu is busy with everything except the most shameful failure in the country he has headed for the past decade – the results of the 2018 PISA exam, which were released this week. These showed a frightening drop in Israeli students’ performance, to below the international average, in language, math and science. And above all, they revealed growing gaps between different segments of society.

His blatant disregard of Arab students’ failure on the PISA exam is the clearest possible evidence of the criminal carelessness of his leadership. Under this leadership, a gap of three to four years has developed between Jewish and Arab students in Israel. Moreover, Israeli Arab students are at a lower level than their peers in Lebanon, Jordan, Indonesia and Kazakhstan. More than 50 percent of Arab high school students have trouble understanding a written text, while the number ranked as outstanding on the PISA exams was near zero.

This failure is no accident. The annual budget for each Arab student is around 24,000 shekels ($6,900), whereas the per-student budget for their Jewish peers is 31,000 shekels, and for religious Jewish students, it rises to 40,000 shekels. This is blatant educational discrimination that has resulted in criminal neglect of roughly a fifth of Israel’s citizens. 

This distorted allocation of funds has created clear educational castes that are determined by one’s religious and ethnic affiliation. Nor can such discrimination be dismissed as mere negligence. Such an ongoing failure is the result of a deliberate policy that seeks to perpetuate ignorance, which will ultimately lead to difficulties in integrating into the job market as well as a rise in crime in the Arab community.

Netanyahu is personally responsible for this failure. He has been prime minister for the last decade, he has appointed successive education ministers, and he is the person who, through his conduct, has created these destructive gaps, which could well lead Israel into a socioeconomic collapse. In any properly functioning country, this failure would suffice to bring about his ouster.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.