The Tel Aviv Municipality has not enacted any policy of segregation that would see local preschools exclusively for the children of asylum-seekers and other preschools for the rest of the children, the city said on Monday.
A municipality representative said that no such policy has been enacted, and that the only determining factor for where a child attends preschool is their place of residence.
The representative said that in order to accommodate the 2,716 new preschool students in the city, Tel Aviv has opened 70 new kindergarten classrooms ahead of the new school year, and that a large number of these are in neighborhoods with a high concentration of children of African asylum-seekers.
She added that there is no city policy stopping a child of African migrants from enrolling in a preschool in their neighborhood, regardless of the race or nationality of the other children who attend it, or, vice versa, there is nothing stopping an Israeli child who lives near the new preschools from enrolling in them.
“We can’t hide that there is bitterness on the part of many of the residents of south Tel Aviv about the fact that the institutions their children attend are full of the children of African asylum-seekers, but this is not something that the city has developed a policy to address,” she added.
Over the past week there have been a number of reports in the Israeli and foreign press stating that the city is building new, segregated preschools, and that the children of African asylum-seekers will be restricted to studying only with fellow African children in their own preschools.
One report in Ynet quotes a city official who says the move is an effort to quell the anger of veteran residents of south Tel Aviv, where the majority of the more than 60,000 African migrants in Israel have made their home in recent years.
In an official response this week, the municipality said: “Children’s schools are established according to the needs of the neighborhood, and the enrollment to the schools is decided by the area of residence, not by origin. The municipality considers it its duty to supply suitable education to every child. That is why the children of the foreign community in Tel Aviv are integrated into all of the education institutions in the city.”
Yael Gvirtz, from the Eliphelet Association – Citizens for Refugee Children, which assists the children of asylum-seekers in Israel, said that she heard about the segregated preschools through the Israeli media.
She said that she never heard from anyone from city hall about such a policy, but that if one does exist, she has decided to look at it in a positive light.
“Let’s say this is the reality. Then I think that if the city does this well and invests the resources needed, these children can benefit from this, because they’ll be in a place they’re wanted, where their needs are met,” Gvirtz said.
She said that the children of asylum-seekers deal with a unique set of needs different than their Israeli neighbors.
They often lack sufficient food at home or supplies at school. In addition, they have often been through trauma on their way to Israel, including being jailed upon arrival, and have found themselves in an environment that includes racism directed at them and their families.
“If I look at this issue, I say first [that] I don’t know what the motives are for the city to open segregated preschools.
But if this is the reality, then I will put aside my ideology – which is very against segregation – and focus on my hope that it means city hall as an authority will take responsibility for these children and open preschools for them and invest in them, so that these children make it to the education system at age six stronger than they would be otherwise.”
She added, “This is the way I’m choosing to look at it. It’s very easy to look at this and jump and scream ‘Racism!’ But if all of these people who are screaming instead came and helped these children, they would be in a better situation entirely.”
Two of the preschools mentioned in a Ynet article last week as being Africanonly appeared to be still undergoing construction when they were visited by The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
One two-story preschool complex on the edge of the Hatikva neighborhood was expansive and new, and one employee said that they had a new staff of teachers.
When asked if there was a new policy of segregation, she said that for years there have been preschools that are made up solely of the children of foreigners and African migrants, and that she didn’t know of a new policy. She did add that the special education preschool inside the building will be mixed.
In 2009, the city of Petah Tikva came under criticism when it was reported that five municipal preschools and kindergartens had only Ethiopian-Israeli children. The school were located in predominantly Ethiopian-Israeli areas, where as the number of Ethiopian children increased, more and more non- Ethiopian families moved their children to other schools, including private ones.
Contacted by the Post on Monday, city council member Shlomo Maslawi, a resident of the Hatikva neighborhood who has for years led protests against the influx of African migrants in south Tel Aviv, said he knows of no such official policy and denied that residents of the south pressured the city to implement preschool segregation.
“The residents didn’t demand this, and there isn’t any coordination between them and the city,” Maslawi said, adding: “I think that the most humane thing to do is not separation but to take these kids to the strong areas in north Tel Aviv and to integrate them with the children of [north Tel Aviv neighborhoods] Bavli, Ofeka, Ramat Aviv.”
Asked again if he thinks the city could have implemented such a policy behind the scenes to appease embittered resident of the south, he said: “When do you think they ever listen to us?”