After Ethiopian-Israeli kindergarten scandal, ministry vows end to segregation

‘Non-heterogeneous’ preschools set to be shut after report earlier this year that kids of Ethiopian origin faced discrimination; minister: Racism unacceptable in education system

Education Minister Rafi Peretz visits a kindergarten in Givat Shmuel, August 29, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Illustrative: Education Minister Rafi Peretz visits a kindergarten in Givat Shmuel, August 29, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The Education Ministry has implemented new directives intended to prevent racial discrimination in educational institutions following widespread outrage over reports earlier this year that a kindergarten in Kiryat Gat had segregated children of Ethiopian origin, relegating them to a secondary room with a separate entrance.

According to a report by the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday, the ministry announced to all local authorities that it would close down any “non-heterogeneous” kindergartens in the next academic year in order to prevent further discrimination.

Amos Shavit, who heads the ministry’s commission for racism prevention, was said to have informed local authorities that automatic registration systems must be manually doubled-checked in order to prevent the establishment of racially homogeneous institutions.

No further details were given on possible practical measures that could be taken to ensure kindergartens were not homogeneous.

“We will not allow the Ethiopian community to be harmed,” tweeted Education Minister Rafi Peretz on Sunday. “Racism and prejudice are outside the educational discourse in Israel.”

Education Ministry Director General Shmuel Abuav stated that his goal was to “prevent cases like Kiryat Gat in advance” and that his ministry was working with local authorities to push a policy of “providing equal opportunity for all students.”

Learning in heterogeneous schools “leads to social cohesion and a sense of belonging,” he said.

Sefy Bililin and her 3-year old daughter Pri’el. (Facebook)

In September, Kiryat Gat resident Sefy Bililin wrote that she had brought her 3-year-old daughter Pri-el for her first day of kindergarten and was shocked to find herself directed to a classroom that was filled exclusively with Ethiopian Israeli youngsters.

These are toddlers who “never did anything wrong in their lives,” Bililin wrote. “Because of the color of their skin they cannot mix with other children.”

After Bililin’s post went viral, the Kiryat Gat municipality said the children were assigned to kindergartens by a computerized system that sorted students “according to geographic area and parental requests for state and state-religious schools.” It rejected any claim that other criteria were being used.

After September’s incident, Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata wrote on Facebook that she had received word from the Education Ministry that it was investigating the matter and that it would solve the problem “immediately.”

On Sunday, Tamano-Shata said that while much work remained, she believed that “there is a willingness” to combat discrimination and that it was “time for the local authorities to take responsibility and ensure inclusion, integration and acceptance.”

This summer, Israelis of Ethiopian origin took part in protests against police violence across the country after an off-duty police officer shot to death 19-year-old Solomon Tekah in Haifa on June 30.

Community organizers say government reforms meant to address racism and police brutality against Ethiopian Israelis have yet to be implemented, over three years after promises were made following similar protests.

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