In recent weeks, tensions have risen in the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods of Kfar Shalem and Yad Eliyahu, where two elementary schools have enrolled 16 children of asylum seekers living in Hatikvah, also in south Tel Aviv.
Some people are describing this as the beginning of a “takeover” by asylum seekers of new neighborhoods, and are ratcheting up fear and animus. At Kfir, one of the two schools, parents protested on the first day of school, last Wednesday, against the eight new students. On the narrow path to the schoolyard, these children were forced to see signs held by protesters reading “Rape = Violence = Infiltrators. Not in our school!”
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Such a display of racism must not be tolerated, nor the list of names (and personal details) of enrolled students whose parents are asylum seekers, gathered by parents at another school, as if the institution’s “purity” were compromised. There are no grounds for arguing that the new students will reduce the level of education. Kfir, for example, will receive several hundred thousand shekels from the city to divide classes into smaller groups, for tutoring programs and for support from psychologists and social workers – for all students, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.
The foreign students have enrolled at schools outside their attendance zone due to a lack of places in neighborhood schools. This is a problem that must be addressed: whether and how the enrollment policy for elementary schools, which was set a generation ago, maintains clear, ostensibly legitimate boundaries of separation between rich and poor, Arabs and Jews, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and yes – Israelis and asylum seekers. This is a complex discussion that must include the principles – that sometimes clash – of equality, integration and identity. Several thousand children of asylum seekers aged 3-18 live and go to school in Tel Aviv. The harsh socioeconomic conditions into which they were born and for which they bear no blame require ongoing public debate and special efforts. This is especially true when it comes to education: Most of the foreign children attend schools where there is not even one Israeli child.
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Now is the time to create a new vision, in which the children of asylum seekers attend schools throughout the city – north, center and south – along with massive investment in teachers, ongoing pedagogical assistance and transportation. It is impossible to overstate the scope of the challenge, which seeks to undermine the principles of separation shaping Israel’s education system. The government – which years ago threw the asylum seekers into south Tel Aviv and has not been seen since – and the local authorities must draft a new policy, with the cooperation of parents from across the spectrum, a policy that is based on solidarity and joint responsibility and not driven by xenophobia.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.