MKs: Islamists infiltrating Arab schools

Education C'tee calls for strengthening of official school system.

burqa 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
burqa 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A day after several Israeli Arabs were indicted for allegedly forming an al-Qaida-inspired terror cell, the Knesset’s Education Committee held a hearing over the “infiltration of the Islamic Movement into schools and preschools” in the Arab sector.
The committee called on the Education Ministry to strengthen and develop the official school system as an alternative to the other schools, which are sponsored by a number of movements including the Islamic Movement.
Orna Simchon, director of the Education Ministry’s Northern District, said the worst cases of student indoctrination was occurring in preschools and elementary schools. Simchon told committee members that approximately 500 recognized, nonofficial preschools operate in the northern district, of which at least 100 are operated by the Islamic Movement.
The ministry, she said, “receives information from complaints and from inspectors regarding preschools and schools that do not operate in accordance with the goals of the Education Law, [and then] holds hearings with the principals of elementary schools and revokes licenses from the preschools.”
Simchon emphasized that some institutions continued to operate after their licenses were revoked, and that in those cases the police were involved in enforcing the ministry’s decision.
MK Ruhama Avraham-Balila (Kadima) said that she had requested the hearing after becoming concerned that the Islamic Movement was operating schools that “taught content that undermines the basis of the State of Israel.”
The Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch is an increasingly separatist organization that has, for years, refused to take part in Israel’s political system – a move that places it beyond the Arab nationalist party, Balad.
The organization has repeatedly been accused of providing financial support to Palestinian terror organizations, and its leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, has been detained numerous times by security forces – most recently for his participation in the Gaza flotilla.
Another of the MKs who initiated the hearing, MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu), called upon the Education Ministry to “tighten up the oversight and enforcement” of educational institutions. Miller said that “in my offices, many letters have piled up from parents begging for help because of the Islamic Movement’s takeovers and claiming that their children are exposed to extremist content, suffer from lack of knowledge and eventually turn to crime and unemployment.”
Responses of Arab MKs to the issue were varied. MK Masud Gnaim (United Arab List-Ta’al) denied there was any real concern within the Arab sector that the Islamic Movement was taking control of the school system. “In the Jewish educational system too there are various streams of schools that are affiliated with certain parties,” he added.
In contrast, MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) did not deny the increase of Islamic Movement-sponsored institutions, but complained that the hearing was “worthless” and came at the expense of hearings on more relevant topics such as the lack of preschools being built in the Arab sector.
“The organizations that are active in the Arab communities act according to law, and all of the allegations that were voiced against them are baseless figments of the imagination of MKs who have nothing better to do than to incite against the Arab public,” he said.
The Balad chairman added that it was absurd that “the Education Ministry does not build or operate preschools in the Arab sector, and then complains when others do. One cannot complain about organizations that meet all the criteria for operating preschools.”
Zahalka, a member of the Education Committee, complained that “the problem is actually the exact opposite – the Arab schools do not expose the students to a wide variety of opinions and do not educate them to a culture of debate and a way to deal with different worldviews out of a fear of an inquisition led by Education Ministry bureaucrats.”