Knesset c'tee to hold meeting on Ethiopian school

Education Ct'ee chair Alex Miller: "Ethiopian only" schools are disgusting phenomenon; protesters gather at Petah Tikva school.

By
September 1, 2011 16:55
3 minute read.
Tzipi Livni with Ethiopian Israeli protesters

Livni loves Ethiopian children_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Knesset Education Committee chairman Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) called an emergency meeting following a demonstration on Thursday of at least 300 families from Petah Tikva’s Ethiopian immigrant community who refused to send their children to school, angry over a government decision to partially close down the community’s Nir Etzion school and prevent enrollment for first grade pupils.

“A school for Ethiopians only is unacceptable, ugly, and gives a bad name to the entire education system,” Miller said. “The State of Israel will not have Ethiopian concentration camps.”

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Miller pointed out that in the Knesset’s previous session, legislation was passed forbidding schools to discriminate against students based on their country of origin, and called for “racist schools” to be “closed immediately, in order to allow children to study with friends of all colors.”

The Education Committee meeting has been called for next Wednesday.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) joined the protests in Petah Tikva, saying: “These children don’t have time to wait until the system gives them the equality they deserve. Every year, they don’t get what other children get, but this year it won’t happen again. We cannot abandon these children.”

“Integration should apply to all ages and not only certain grades,” said Daniel Fasil Uoria, head of the United Ethiopians, the organization behind Thursday’s strike and day-long protest.

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Uoria said that the community wants the entire school closed down and that parents would not send their children to school until an alternative solution was found for these pupils.

“They will sit at home until another solution is found for these children,” he said.

A statement released by the Education Ministry said there was room for discussions with the Petah Tikva municipality on the matter and that such dialog did not have a “foregone conclusion.”

Ziva Mekonen-Degu, executive director of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, told The Jerusalem Post that the key to solving the problem was for the Education Ministry to consult directly with Ethiopian families.

“We sent out a position paper six months ago advising the ministry to consult with the local community about the situation before deciding to close schools where there is a large percentage of Ethiopian pupils,” she said, explaining that in areas such as Petah Tikva, where there are neighborhoods with large numbers of Ethiopian immigrants, the school’s student body has become almost 100 percent Ethiopian.

“The IAEJ does not feel this is a problem; in places such as Kiryat Shmona or Dimona, there are schools that are 90% Moroccan immigrants,” she pointed out. “We are against integration for the sake of integration and believe that an investment in the school will help the immigrant pupils succeed.”

Mekonen-Degu said that she was shocked by the ministry’s decision to close the school only four days before the academic year was set to begin.

“Parents have already bought equipment for their children and prepared them for school. The ministry thinks that the Ethiopian community is passive and will just do whatever it is told to but we will not,” she said.

According to the IAEJ, Petah Tikva is not the only place where the local school is slated to close. At least 17 schools and kindergartens where there is a large number of Ethiopian pupils are likely to be closed down in stages over the next few years with the goal of dispersing the immigrant students to other schools nearby and improving integration.

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