Tel Aviv Says No to Gender Separation

The Education Ministry’s decision to separate Tel Aviv elementary school boys and girls at an event devoted to childhood games must not go by the board

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Children wear costumes as they watch a shows during events marking the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim at the Bialik Rogozin school in Tel Aviv, Israel March 22, 2016.
Children wear costumes as they watch a shows during events marking the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim at the Bialik Rogozin school in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2016. Credit: Reuters
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

The Education Ministry’s decision to separate Tel Aviv elementary school boys and girls at an event devoted to childhood games must not go by the board. The explanation the ministry gave – a need to be considerate of religious schools participating in the event – is infuriating and shows that religious standards are taking over the public sphere. The boundary this time was set by half the elementary school principals in the city, who announced that they would not take part in the event.

There was no response to the separation of boys and girls at a sports event in previous years, apparently due to outmoded gender concepts. The principals’ protest this year required the Education Ministry to formulate an explanation, and the first claim that was pulled out was consideration of the religious education system, where separation between boys and girls is the norm.

The awakening of the educators is a welcome development: Old orders are being looked at with a new and critical eye. The protest uncovered the distortion guiding the Education Ministry – not only with regard to a preference for increasingly more strict religious sensitivity, but also because of the “body image of boys and girls,” as the official in charge of physical education in the ministry put it, which supposedly prevents the two sexes from playing together. The idea that it is the separation itself that creates problems in body image, and no less so in the image of the soul, and perpetuates them in a new generation of boys and girls, has escaped the Education Ministry’s people.

In the new discourse promoted by the Education Ministry, “consideration” is nothing more than forcing the customs of a religious minority on a secular majority. The attempt to inculcate anti-liberal values by means of claims taken from the liberal lexicon, such as the need for multiculturalism, variety and respect for “the other,” must be rejected. This is not “only” about consideration for religious children, but an attempt to revamp the public space in keeping with religious laws. Separation is a step intended to lay the public groundwork for the segregation of women.

The school principals proposed a compromise allowing separate games “for those interested in this,” but their idea was rejected. The concept that the two sexes can act together in the same space is under assault – not only in schools, but in the academic world, the army, the health care system and the workplace, including in the civil service. In all of them, separate tracks are popping up, becoming institutionalized and expanding for the religious and the ultra-Orthodox, along with demands for “adjustments” from the secular only. The claim that this is a matter involving only these groups must not be accepted; damage is done to all of Israeli society.

In their letter to the education minister, the principals stressed that gender separation goes against “the communities we serve.” This is a warning light against the attempt to make separation the norm. Their refusal to cooperate with the Education Ministry’s unacceptable conduct is worthy of praise and support from parents and schoolchildren alike.

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

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