The most urgent task for educators in the wake of the latest round of violence between Jews and Arabs in mixed Israeli cities is to pave the way to promote coexistence through the schools. There’s no point in waiting for the Education Ministry to do this. In fact, the Education Ministry has contributed to the violence. Education ministers imbued with ultranationalist fervor and the obsequious professional staff members who cooperated with them have for years suppressed any effort to reduce, even slightly, the ignorance, fear and hatred between Jews and Arabs.
The ministry deliberately emptied education for coexistence of all meaning. Ministers and officials are replaced, but the policy remains. All of these individuals chose not to heed the educators who warned that hatred had become a central component of the identity of Israeli teens and complained about the shortage of tools or support to address this. Studies, state comptroller reports and surveys of high school students warning that education for coexistence was being neglected did not cause the ministry to correct its policy.
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Five years ago, then-State Comptroller Joseph Shapira issued a harsh report on the Education Ministry’s failures on this matter. A follow-up report, issued last week under the current, particularly forgiving controller, noted that in many important areas very little has changed. No policy on combating racism had been set and no work plan has been drawn up; an effort to establish a “racism index” in schools was blocked from on high; and meetings between Jewish and Arab students remain the exception. To this must be added the cuts to the already meager funds allocated to this issue and the failure to issue a director general’s circular that was meant to bring order to the chaotic handling of the issue and express a “system-wide approach” for combating racism.
Given all this, it would be wise to treat with skepticism Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s remarks about “living together,” or the new videos the ministry has posted showing Jewish and Arab teachers together. PR campaigns cannot be a substitute for necessary changes. Real change requires updating curricula (for example, in history, geography and civics, in a way that recognizes the differing Jewish and Arab narratives); making the study of Arabic mandatory for Jewish students; joint training of teachers from both communities and encouraging joint study frameworks and encounters between students of different communities.
The separation between Jews and Arabs began before the state was founded and has continued since then. A situation in which young people from both groups have no familiarity with each other is a sure recipe for continuing displays of fear and hatred.
Principals and teachers, students and parents and all who cherish life must seek ways to lower the walls of separation.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.