Editorial

Israeli Education Minister's Duty

Rafi Peretz speaks at a campaign rally, Kfar HaMaccabiah, June 29, 2019.
\ Ilan Assayag

Petah Tikva’s refusal to enroll 129 children of Eritrean asylum seekers, which emerged from a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city and the Education Ministry, is a new point on the map of Israeli racism.

“And you shall love the stranger as yourself, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” was written on the signs carried at a demonstration that asylum-seeker families held this week. The reminder of the Jewish commandment is important, but no less important is what Israeli law says on this issue.

A director general’s circular from 2000 states that the Compulsory Education Law applies to every child over the age of 3 who lives in Israel for more than three months, regardless of the residency status of the child or its parents (including whether or not they are legally permitted to work and whether they are asylum seekers). But Petah Tikva is flouting Jewish values, and certainly the Compulsory Education Law.

According to the suit, since registration for the coming school year opened in January, the municipality has blocked dozens of asylum-seeker families from registering their children for preschool and first grade under various bureaucratic pretexts. At the end of March, the Education Ministry intervened and demanded that the city enroll the children immediately, “with no consideration given to their legal status in Israel.” Nevertheless, as reported by Shira Kadari-Ovadia in Haaretz on Wednesday, the municipality has not allowed the parents to register their children.

A child holds a sign that reads 'Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,' at a demonstration in Petah Tikva, July 9, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The abuse of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Petah Tikva is not new. In September 2016 dozens of families filed a suit to register their children in the city’s educational system. As a result, the city promised to register the children, but most of them were put in separate frameworks. In March 2017 the city disconnected the electricity from 25 divided apartments, most of which were occupied by asylum seekers, and forced many of them out.

It’s important to clarify that the attitude toward the children of foreigners is not a matter of government discretion, and certainly not that of the Petah Tikva municipality. Israel must recognize the rights of foreigners’ children as determined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel ratified and signed.

Last month a letter on this issue was sent to Education Minister Rafi Peretz, but he has yet to respond. Peretz must intervene on behalf of the children, and not just because of the biblical commandment to love the stranger. The convention that Israel signed says explicitly that the children of work migrants and asylum seekers are entitled the rights to which all a country’s children are eligible, and that includes the right to an education. Israel’s signature obligates the Education Ministry and the one who heads it to assure the rights of these children to an education, as the law demands.

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