Parents and students gathered in the courtyard of the Shevah Mofet High School in south Tel Aviv on Thursday to protest against a Tel Aviv Municipality and Ministry of Education plan to transform the high school, which traditionally serves Russian-Israelis, into a school for mainly children of asylum-seekers.
Under the new plan, slated to begin next school year, only Tel Aviv residents will be allowed to attend the school. Around 75 percent of Shevah Mofet students are from outside Tel Aviv. However, after significant backlash, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai stated on Thursday that he would work to keep Shevah Mofet open and unchanged.
Shevah Mofet High School serves around 900 mostly Israeli-Russian students from 7th-12th grade. The school is known for its excellence in mathematics and science and attracts students from around the country.
The plan caused uproar among many of the students’ parents, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Huldai exchanged political barbs over the issue.
“From one side the school receives awards of excellence and on the other side they are going to close the curtains? I don’t understand this dissonance,” Tsipi Dik head of the Parent Teacher Association and protest participant told The Jerusalem Post
. Dik’s son, who is a graduate of the school, chose to commute every day from Rishon Lezion because he loved the student- teacher relationships.
Dik contends that it does not matter whether students are children of asylum-seekers, however, they must meet academic thresholds to attend the prestigious school. “We cannot accept everyone always,” she stated, “But If they meet the threshold we will accept them with love. What is important is that the students want to study here.”
Protesters held signs stating “Don’t give up on our children’s future,” and “Don’t replace a winning team.” On Wednesday night dozens of people met in South Tel Aviv to protest the plan and some burned pictures of Huldai.
Shevah Mofet’s transformation into a school for asylum-seekers arose at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting when Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman demanded that Education Minister Naftali Bennett
intervene to halt the plan.
Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party has a traditional base of Russian-speaking Israelis and Liberman is himself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union.
In a statement on Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the transformation of Shevah Mofet “into an educational institutions for children of infiltrators.” A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday also slammed Huldai. “Shevah Mofet is a milestone of excellence and values, a wonderful achievement of the blessed immigration from the Soviet Union. The mayor and the city of Tel Aviv should be ashamed of closing such an excellent educational institution.”
Huldai responded on his Facebook page on Wednesday blasting the prime minister. “Unfortunately, the government and its leader is satisfied with press releases and posts instead of addressing the problem in depth, creating an illusion for the residents of south Tel Aviv that the government cares for them,” the mayor stated.
Huldai later told Army Radio on Thursday that he would seek a solution with the Ministry of Education to ensure the school remains unchanged, “Unfortunately the prime minister let loose the Russian community on foreign workers,” Huldai said, “If the State of Israel, together with us, thinks that it is right and proper to continue the activities of the school in its present, form we will build the high school somewhere else.”
The decision to transform Shevah Mofet was reached as a comprise with south Tel Aviv residents after a plan to establish a school in Levinsky Park near the central bus station was scrapped.
For 2015 the Tel Aviv Municipality allocated NIS 45,977,117 toward supporting the city’s non-citizen population; NIS 6,408,000 was allocated to education.
Minister of Education Bennett said on Thursday that there are no plans to change the school’s demographic. “There is no demographic change at the school at the moment. There are certain intentions or ideas from the municipality in that regard. The goal we all strive for is to keep Shevah Mofet running in the same way as it has been so far On the other hand, we’re obligated to follow the law and provide education,” he stated as reported by Yediot Aharonot
David Yahnin, an 11th-grade student who participated in the Thursday protest, told The Post
that the school should remain open to students from around Israel. “People come here from around the country.
This is a beautiful school,” he said, “I have no problem with children of immigrants.
There are immigrant students here and they integrated well they are my friends.”
MK’s also jumped in support of the school on Thursday.
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova visited the protest. She said the school “must not close” and proposed exploring other options for asylum- seeker children, including integrating the children in schools throughout Tel Aviv rather then concentrating them in south Tel Aviv schools.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked visited a Jewish school in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Yad Eliyahu. She stated on Thursday that in light of the fight over “children of infiltrators” she is happy to support schools in south Tel Aviv “despite the difficulties.”
According Anat Ovadia-Rosner, spokeswoman for the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the fight over Shevah Mofet is a political sideshow meant to distract from the core issues facing residents of south Tel Aviv’s. “Once the parents and children have basic rights it will be easier for them to live in other places,” she stated, “children have to go to school and now the burden falls on the residents of south Tel Aviv.”
However, one student who declined to state her name did not join the protest. “I’d rather see a dialogue over the problem. It does not have to be black and white, anger against anger won’t solve anything,” she said.Lidar Gravé-Lazi contributed to this report.