In Tel Aviv, Out of All Places, Schools Are Still Segregated

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File photo: Children attend an event of solidarity with the children up for deportation the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2019.
File photo: Children attend an event of solidarity with the children up for deportation the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2019.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Dov Khenin

On Sunday morning, at the beginning of the school week, children arriving at the Keshet and Gvanim elementary schools in Tel Aviv found racist graffiti awaiting them. It was an act of hatred aimed directly at their eyes. All the pupils at these schools, located close to each other, are children of asylum-seekers or migrants.

Many were shocked by the graffiti – and it was shocking. But the key questions have yet to be asked: Why are these youngsters separated from others in the city? And, how does this separation facilitate such expressions of racism?

In Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the municipality – illegally – keeps the children of migrant workers and asylum-seekers nearly completely separate from all other children. The separation begins in city preschools and continues in the elementary schools. In recent years, that policy in the education system was strongly reinforced when the municipality opened the Gvanim and Keshet schools, designated solely for the children of migrant workers and asylum-seekers. These schools are situated in an industrial area far from where the asylum-seekers live; the city does not place these children in the neighborhood schools close to their homes. Moreover, none of the pupils in Keshet and Gvanim have Israeli citizenship.

Segregated education is a type of discrimination that is illegal in Israel. It is banned by the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which guarantees the right to dignity and equality, by the Pupils’ Rights Law and by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory.

Local courts have already ruled that a policy of segregation in school enrollment is forbidden because separation on the basis of class, race or ethnicity harms children, leads to a lack of social solidarity, stigmatizes the separated population and precludes the important advantages of integrative education. In a number of Israeli cities, including Petah Tikva, Eilat and Kiryat Malakhi, there have been successful fights against such segregation and in support of the integration of children of asylum-seekers in public schools.

Asylum seekers protest the city's refusal to allow their children to enroll in school, Petah Tikva, July 9, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The children of asylum-seekers are harmed daily by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality’s segregation policy. They have to be bused to school every day far from home and must endure the humiliation of this separation – between blacks and whites, between Israelis and non-Israelis, between Jews and non-Jews – every school day. The experience is degrading enough even without inflammatory graffiti scrawled on the school’s gates.

The argument that separation doesn’t necessarily mean inequality and that a policy of “separate but equal” can be sustained has already been rejected by the courts and is also refuted by the evident social and educational impact of school segregation.

Educational and social segregation gives rise to prejudice, racism and fear, and prevents the offspring of asylum-seekers from integrating into their surroundings. Separation also harms all the schoolchildren, since the presence of youngsters from different backgrounds, or with different needs, makes their classmates more tolerant and responsible toward others, and improves their cognitive abilities, their critical thinking and their future ability to thrive in a socially, culturally and ethnically mixed environment.

Unlike the welfare and health systems, the school system is open to the children of asylum-seekers and is virtually the only window through which they can integrate into Israeli society. But this window is closed in preschools and elementary schools.

Only the full integration of asylum seekers’ children in the same schools with the children of Israelis, combined with significant pedagogical training and efforts, will start to close the gaps and offer a brighter future for these youngsters who live among us. We mustn’t let the obscene messages sprayed on the walls hide the institutionalized racism that builds walls between children.

Khenin is a former Joint List lawmaker.

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