Special report: Israel failing to combat racism in schools

President Rivlin: "Until now, Israel’s greatest challenge has been security. But now the prevention of racism and hatred has become one of the most acute and strategic problems of Israel."

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu greets a pupil during a visit at the Tamra Ha’emek elementary school on the first day of the school year, in the Arab town of Tamra in the Lower Galilee. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu greets a pupil during a visit at the Tamra Ha’emek elementary school on the first day of the school year, in the Arab town of Tamra in the Lower Galilee.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
“The State of Israel is not doing enough to uproot the grave phenomena of racism and hate” in society, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote on Thursday in his report on the issue.
Shapira said the Education Ministry must give far more attention to the issue, in particular to combat racism among the country’s “youth and in order to promote coexistence.
“The history of the Jewish nation commands us to remember each day the terrible results of racism and of hating the other,” he explained.
The report said that the nation must learn the lessons of the past to prevent “wild devastation” from consuming “all that is good,” since “there is no guarantee that the bushes of racism will not turn” a society which once emphasized its humanity and compassion into a “forest of chaos.”
President Reuven Rivlin and MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), chairwoman of the Knesset State Control Committee, were presented with the report in a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem earlier on Thursday.
Until now, said Rivlin, Israel’s greatest challenge had been security. But the prevention of racism and hatred has become one of the country’s most acute and strategic problems.
Rivlin expressed the hope that the government will make this a top priority.
Almost 400 schools have already held joint meetings, where students from different religious and ethnic backgrounds come together, he said.
What concerned him most was this: “If Jews are taught that Arabs are evil, and Arabs are taught that Jews are evil, we will never be able to live together.”
Elharar said, “The eradication of racism is one of the significant challenges facing the State of Israel as of 2016. We have witnessed too many instances of violence on the backdrop of racism, disparities and discrimination that stem from a feeling ofalienation among many population groups in the country.”
The Comptroller’s Report presented a “significant warning sign” for the Education Ministry and should serve as a guiding light for other ministries to follow suit and address the issue of racism, she said.
We cannot not neglect the issue, because if we wait until it becomes too late, “the erosion of the already delicate fabric of Israeli society will be irreversible,” Elharar said.
Shapira warned that in recent years, extreme racist statements that were once relegated to the outer regions of public discourse have become more common, empowered by social media’s ability to give extremists a platform for quickly and widely disseminating their ideas.
The state has many tools for fighting racism, the first of which is education, the comptroller said.
His report reviews the Education Ministry’s actions in combating racism from March to August 2015, and finds that it has failed to use education as a forum for building bridges between the disparate sectors of society.
The report outlined six main fault lines of intolerance: relations between Jews and Arabs; between religious and secular Jews; between immigrants and veteran citizens; between those living in the center of the country and those living in the periphery; relating to the disabled; and relating to gays and lesbians. The report also gave examples of racism against Ethiopian Israelis.
The report recognizes that the Education Ministry set fighting racism as a primary goal in summer 2014, after various racist incidents in connection with the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip (Operation Protective Edge), but says that these steps fell far short of the pedagogical, organizational, budgetary and operational steps necessary to have a real impact.
In its section on recommendations for change, the report notes that the Education Ministry adopted the recommendations of a special task force (the Kremnitzer Report), but did not implement its central aspects, nor did it set up a system for evaluating whether it has reached benchmarks on the issue.
Curricula related to coexistence and tolerance either have not been used at all by teachers, or have been used half-heartedly and without integrating the ideas with the immediate local racist phenomena present in the particular classes where the curriculum is presented.
Where coexistence and tolerance are taught, they are not integrated into the civics and history studies where they would be most relevant and are not part of any of standard informal school programming.
Also, the absence of a high school exit exam on the issue marks it as less important for both teachers and students.
NGOs which the Education Ministry has employed to deal with some of these issues are not being overseen to chart their progress or to ensure they are working on the issue with consistency.
The Education Ministry responded to the report in a statement: “The Education Ministry considers education for democracy, coexistence and the fight against racism as a central value, and special emphasis is placed on this issue as part of the strategic plan of the ministry.
“As part of this framework a comprehensive work plan was defined that will require all divisions to incorporate assignments and performance measures.
The ministry operates a civics education headquarters that coordinates education toward tolerance and coexistence, as well as education against racism.”
The ministry said that promoting tolerance and preventing racism was chosen as one of its central strategic goals for 2016-2019. These goals include holding meetings between pupils from different sectors, and in the 2015/16 academic year some 35,000 pupils took part in activities promoting coexistence.
Eliyahu Kamisher contributed to this report.