Kiryat Gat kindergarten shuttered after allegedly segregating Ethiopian children

Kids sent to other daycare centers across southern town after viral Facebook post exposes purported discrimination

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

A kindergarten in the southern town of Kiryat Gat has been closed after allegedly racially segregating its students, relegating children of Ethiopian descent to a secondary room with a separate entrance.

According to a report Sunday by the Kan public broadcaster, the children placed in the kindergarten have since been admitted to daycare centers across the town, with transportation provided by local authorities for those who live at a distance.

Earlier this month, in a Facebook post that went viral, local resident Sefy Bililin wrote that she 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.

“I haven’t been able to sleep since Sunday because of thoughts about where this generation is heading,” she wrote, describing how she had arrived at the kindergarten only to be told that her daughter was not on the registration list. She was then directed to a secondary kindergarten in the building that was accessible only through a separate door and exclusively contained Ethiopian children.

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.”

“My daughter is worth as much as anyone else,” she added, describing how she removed her daughter from the kindergarten and went to the municipality to complain. “She was born here and she is as good as anyone.”

At the time, Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata harshly condemned the kindergarten, writing on Facebook that the Ethiopian community’s “children are no different from any other child in Israel.”

The opposition lawmaker wrote that she had received word from the Education Ministry that it was investigating the matter and that it would solve the problem “immediately.”

“Don’t you dare segregate our children,” she wrote, addressing Kiryat Gat Mayor Aviram Dahari. “We will not let this pass in silence. Our children will grow up with full confidence that you and your workers will not separate and harm them because of the color of their skin.”

In a statement reported by news site Walla earlier this month, the 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.

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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