The Specter of Racism Hangs Over Bennett's New Educational Plan That Must Be Scrapped

Instead of helping to fight discrimination by improving conditions at Arab schools or integrating more Arab teachers into Jewish classrooms, Bennett and the rest of the ministry have chosen to fund Arab trainees less than Jewish ones.

Alon Ron

A looming shadow of discrimination hovers over the Education Ministry’s decision to give Arab teacher trainees in the Galilee less funding than their Jewish peers. The decision is the latest in a series of official disparities that have existed for many years in the funding and educational autonomy of Israel’s Arab population and its Jewish one.

In contending with the problem of a surplus of Arab teachers who are unable to find work, the ministry that Naftali Bennett heads chose an ill-conceived plan that should never have been hatched.

It seems that the Education Ministry finds it difficult to assume responsibility for all of Israel’s citizens, irrespective of religion or ethnicity. It is imperative that the appropriate public and legal authorities remind the ministry of this obligation.

Based on the plan, reported by Yarden Skop in Thursday’s Haaretz, every Arab student in the north will be funded at about half the rate of funding for a Jewish student – approximately 14,000 shekels (about $3,600) as opposed to 25,000 shekels ($6,440). The reason, according to Education Ministry director general Eyal Ram, is that despite the surplus of Arab teachers, “many continue to choose to study teaching anyway,” – the pedagogical equivalent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election “the Arabs are heading in droves to the polls” speech. Bennett and Netanyahu can be pleased: The spirit of the commander has trickled down.

Before reducing funding for Arab students, the ministry should have examined the other possibilities, such as increasing the number of Arab teachers in Jewish schools. Currently, there are only a few hundred, many of whom teach Arabic. Such a step could strike a major blow against racism in Israel, which usually stems from a sense of foreignness and alienation. To advance such a possibility, quotas should be set for employing Arab teachers in Jewish schools for a variety of subjects, besides Arabic.

If the desire to reduce alienation and create a better shared life for Jews and Arabs is not a top priority for Bennett and his people, at least they could have opted for another goal: improving conditions in Arab schools, by reducing overcrowding in classrooms and adding teaching hours. Both these solutions — hiring Arab teachers in Jewish schools or enhancing conditions in Arab schools — would call for hiring many more Arab teachers. The Education Ministry has rejected such proposals in the past as too costly. Instead of dealing creatively with this distress, the ministry has chosen to hurt the very population that is already discriminated against in so many spheres. This plan should be speedily scrapped.