Education Ministry won’t fire teachers who ran racist chat mocking black students

Ministry says instructors expressed remorse after opening special WhatsApp group in which they made fun of students from Ethiopian community during school trip

Illustrative: Israeli students at a high school in the southern city of Ashdod, November 29, 2020. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli students at a high school in the southern city of Ashdod, November 29, 2020. (Flash90)

A group of teachers who made racist and derogatory remarks about black students in a WhatsApp chat will not be removed from their positions this year, the Education Ministry said Wednesday.

The teachers, from a high school in the southern town of Netivot, were instead handed unspecified reprimands after expressing remorse for comments made in the group chat.

The ministry said the teachers’ suitability for roles in the school would be re-examined ahead of the next academic year.

The teachers, who had been chaperoning an annual school trip, were found earlier this month to have opened a chat group called “School trip blacks” in which they made jokes about chaperoning students of Ethiopian heritage, which included racist comments.

National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, a former absorption minister who is of Ethiopian descent, said the ministry had added salt to the wound by leaving the teachers in place.

“The Education Ministry decision is humiliating and a green light for racism,” she said. She added that the instructors “need to be removed from the field of education by having their teaching licenses revoked.”

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ministry southern region administrator Ram Zahavi said the teachers were brought in for “fundamental and comprehensive clarifications, as well as a [disciplinary] hearing, and in the end, we used the disciplinary tools we have at our disposal.”

He added that he “emphasized to the teachers that there’s no place for harmful or racist commentary in Israeli society and especially in the education system, and it is on us to give a personal example.”

The WhatsApp group was exposed partway through the trip when a student happened to see a teacher scrolling through messages in the “blacks” group.

The student snapped pictures of the phone in which derogatory comments could be seen, and posted them online, alerting the school and the Education Ministry.

“It’s simply sad, as a member of the [Ethiopian] community, to see how far you have fallen today,” a student wrote in a message addressed to the teachers, which was also published online alongside the pictures of their WhatsApp chat.

“Instead of being our teachers and serving as role models and allowing us to feel our safest you have done the opposite… I see these pictures and do not believe they came from our teachers. You are simply embarrassments. We are ashamed that you are our teachers and that you are teaching the future generation.”

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