To combat racism and intolerance, we need to teach morality

In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked Israel third in the world for adult education level, ahead of the US and the UK.

Ethiopian-Israel youth protest in Beersheva (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ethiopian-Israel youth protest in Beersheva
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The function of education... is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote in his essay “The Purpose of Education,” in the February 1947 edition of the Morehouse College student newspaper, The Maroon Tiger.
For many years we have heard that Israel is a highly educated nation. In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked Israel third in the world for adult education level, ahead of the US and the UK.
It is a well-known truism that the Jewish people, the “People of the Book,” have always regarded education as paramount.
Nonetheless, those involved in our education systems in Israel need to constantly be asking themselves if, along with achieving important educational milestones, we are focused on maintaining the character and morality of our society.
The recent death of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah at the hands of an off-duty police officer has reopened wounds felt by many Israelis of Ethiopian origin.
While it is clear that there is much more work to do toward greater equality and parity in Israeli society, especially toward our Ethiopian-Israeli brothers and sisters, this should become a priority for the next government after the September elections.
However, where we can all do much better is in our attitudes toward different sectors of Israeli society.
The Berl Katznelson Center, which tracks hate speech on social media in Hebrew, found last week that online expressions of hate toward the Ethiopian-Israeli community rose 40-fold. The center said that whereas racist comments against Ethiopian-Israelis on social media constitute on average just 1% of all hate speech tracked by the center, last week saw that figure jump to 40% at its peak.
This is a trend that should frighten all of us into action.
The slurs used included “go back to Ethiopia” and similar statements. It is arguably uniquely regarded in parts of Israeli society that Ethiopian Jews came to Israel out of the benevolence of the state and not, as opposed to other immigrant communities, because of Zionism’s central tenet to have Israel as a national homeland for the Jewish people.
FOR TOO long we have heard even high-ranking decision-makers and opinion-shapers talk about quality aliyah and making immigration to Israel dependent on wealth, education and the ability to integrate, as those are the immigrant’s responsibility and not the state’s to deal with.
We need to stop grading sections of Israeli society in our minds and welcome each immigrant with equally outstretched arms.
We need an educational system that does not separate between communities and integrates our children from differing backgrounds, putting an emphasis on morality and principles in equal measure with their studies.
When Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman set about creating Migdal Ohr in 1972, he specifically decided to go to one of the parts of Israel that was home to many children from impoverished and disadvantaged backgrounds, especially among immigrant communities.
Many of these immigrant communities were living separately with little positive interaction, but when he created the Migdal Ohr school system he made a point of including Jewish children from all backgrounds who would receive a high level of moral, Jewish and regular education.
More than four decades and tens of thousands of graduates later, the Migdal Ohr system is a proven success. More than 80% of its graduates have gone on to pursue higher education – higher than the national average of 49.9% that ensured Israel reached the third place in the OECD rankings mentioned earlier.
They have gone on to reach the highest positions in politics, business, culture and the IDF, and they have not forgotten the education they received.
The recipe for this success is simple, and can and should be replicated on a national scale.
Education is not just feeding information to students but includes providing them the tools with which to become better people and members of society.
Racism all too frequently comes from a place of insecurity and intolerance, and is largely learned through unfamiliarity.
Schools need to teach our children that while our Diaspora experience might have been different, we are all one people regardless of the colors of our skin, our accents and our traditions.
These are the morals we need to impart to our children, and to teach them to think critically, and not accept the easy path.
Israel is a unique country which has largely successfully absorbed people from well over 100 nations speaking dozens of languages. However, if we fail one community then the system cannot be described as a success, regardless of the international accolades it receives.
Like many things, our accomplishments as a nation are judged by the education our children receive, and the morality we are able to successfully impart.
The writer is executive director of American Friends of Migdal Ohr.