Uproar after kindergarten allegedly segregates Ethiopian children

Education Ministry and MKs condemn incident in Kiryat Gat; city council members summoned for meeting

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 Kiryat Gat has generated widespread outrage after allegedly racially segregating its students, relegating black children to a secondary room with a separate entrance.

In a Facebook post that has since gone viral, local resident Sefy Bililin wrote that she brought her three-year-old daughter Pri-el for her first day of kindergarten on Sunday 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.”

Israelis take part in a demonstration in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2015 against alleged police brutality and institutionalized discrimination against the Ethiopian community. (AFP/Jack Guez)

“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.”

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.”

Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata speaks at a Knesset committee debate on a bill to remove limits on the number of cabinet ministers that can be appointed by a government, May 21, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“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, 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.

“The lack of integration of Ethiopian immigrant students with the general population sets a bad example and is definitely inconsistent with the values of the  Education Ministry,” the ministry said in a statement.

In light of the complaint, the ministry said that it had “summoned the city council representatives to an urgent meeting on the matter and also sent a letter to the municipality explaining the [its] position on this important issue.”

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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