Renowned Druze educator aims to swap classroom for Knesset

"If this is the state of the Jews and I serve in the security services, and in theory it's not my state, then I have been turned into a mercenary."

Ali Shalalha (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ali Shalalha
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the picturesque Druze village of Beit Jann, renowned school principal Ali Shalalha has carried out a veritable educational revolution. Now, he wants to swap the classroom for the Knesset.
Born there in 1952, Shalalha has dedicated almost his entire life to the village, save for three-and-a-half years of service in the IDF – including the Yom Kippur War; his university studies; and a year-long trip across the Americas.
Shalalha returned to Beit Jann upon returning to Israel, and started teaching in the local comprehensive high school. In 2000, he took over the management of the school where, at the time, only 12% of pupils on average completed their bagrut (high school matriculation) studies.
“I said to my friends: This school needs to be the best in the world, not only [the best] in Israel,” Shalalha told The Jerusalem Post.
“My vision for the school was that there is no such thing as a student who has failed; there is only a student who has not yet succeeded.”
Shalalha’s philosophy paid off. Since 2014, no school has managed to knock Beit Jann’s comprehensive high school off first place in the national school rankings.
Now, handing the keys of the school to his deputy, the Druze educator is running in the Meretz Party’s first-ever legislative primaries on February 14 – and he has his sights firmly fixed on leaving Beit Jann for Jerusalem, and for the Knesset.
“What convinced me to run for a seat? I led a revolution in education in Beit Jann, but Jerusalem is the place where all of the most important decisions for Israel are made,” Shalalha said. “I believe the periphery, the Druze and other minorities have been negatively discriminated against.
“I want to be in the Knesset and, together with Meretz, influence Israeli society to be more equal and more just; to divide resources more fairly to the periphery, both for the South and the North.”
Unsurprisingly, one of the key factors pushing Shalalha to target the Knesset was the Nation State-Law, passed by the Knesset in July 2018 as a basic law with quasi-constitutional status, which led to the Druze community taking to the streets in protest.
“It’s not good for the Jews or the state, or [for] Israel’s democracy. The declaration of independence refers to equality and the rights of minorities. So why legislate and turn both me and my son, who is serving in the Israeli Air Force, into mercenaries and second-class citizens?” he said.
“If this is the state of the Jews and I serve in the security services, and in theory it’s not my state, then I have been turned into a mercenary.”
If he reaches the Knesset in April, becoming Meretz’s first Druze MK, Shalalha has vowed to work towards canceling the Nation-State Law, and ensure greater equality in wages for women and fair treatment for all of Israel’s minority groups.
“There is nothing like living together and being together: all the varieties of the rainbow. The Ethiopian community also went out to protest last week, but we shouldn’t need to protest to receive our rights,” he said.
“All of us contribute to this country and the economy, so there is no reason why we can’t live together, respect each other and set off on a journey to become stronger by looking toward peace, equality and just democracy.”