Explaining Israel’s separate and unequal education system

Israel/Palestine
on 6 Comments

With all the recent events in Europe and the Middle East, you would think Israeli officials would be very busy keeping tabs on events in the neighborhood. But no, they are keeping faithful to their non-interference policies. They stay doggedly focused on issues of justice and equality within the country. That is why the other day, while touring the Golan Heights with friends from the USA, I kept thinking of Haneen Zoubi.

Israel’s Arab Educational Council had as its foundational goal helping the Minister of Education “formulate policy  … that will ensure the equal status of Israel’s Arab citizens.” Too bad many of its members resigned and it went defunct shortly after its establishment two decades ago. We shouldn’t be quick to judge those fountains of educational wisdom for their reluctance to offer their advice. There is precedence for this kind of outcome when Israel is intent on addressing weighty issues of special relevance to its Palestinian citizens. Take for example the Constitutional Assembly that was appointed shortly after the declaration of Israel’s independence. It was tasked with the job of drafting a constitution for the only democracy in the Middle East. It has yet to meet. Very likely the Messiah will act as its head since it will have to meet in heaven. And why the delay, you may ask?  There seems to be a basic conflict between two sparks of enlightenment: the framers of the new state’s insistence on democracy on the one hand and their commitment to its Jewishness on the other with all the absolutism and inborn privilege and superiority of the chosen people that such commitment involves. Simple! Just put the implementation of such side issues off. Besides, how can we be expected to have a constitution when we don’t even have set borders? How can we have equality for all citizens when that means granting equal rights to a 20% “nest of terrorism?” The logical thing to do is to finish the ethnic cleansing that we messed up so badly in 1948 (witness the moral reawakening of Benny Morris on this matter) before dealing with such tiddlywink issues as a constitution and borders. When God is the founder of a country all such issues are secondary, Benny Morris and ISIS can tell you. And I am refraining from mentioning Netanyahu here out of respect for Morris’s historiographical integrity.

The Arab Educational Council’s input is sorely missed in the current tempest in a teacup that the country’s liberal Zionist (yes, I am aware of the oxymoron!) paper, Haaretz, is intent on stirring. On July 7, 2016 it featured the following investigative report as its lead front page article: “Arab teacher trainees to get half of Jewish peers’ budget.” It further highlights the issue with a first-page analysis piece entitled “Separate and unequal.” The entire hubbub is about “a new method of budgeting” that is not new at all. You turn the page and here is what you find:

Meanwhile, from elementary school up, Jewish students receive more state funding than their Arab peers. In high school, per-student funding in 2013-14 was 35 percent to 68 percent higher for Jews than for Arabs at the same socioeconomic level. That statistic comes from the Education Ministry itself.

It has always been there but no one seemed to notice. Nearly four decades ago I sat on a committee headed by the late Dr. Sami Geraisy that looked at the various government services to Palestinian citizens of Israel. If my memory serves me right we found them greatly deficient, some less than a tenth of what a Jewish citizen gets. When little response was forthcoming we leaked the report to the press. Still little happened. Since then hundreds of reports have confirmed this. The official response has since shifted from total denial to explaining the facts away and giving false promises. But this is the wrong approach altogether. The scheme at hand now addresses an altogether different issue. It is designed to deal with the problem of unemployment among Arab graduates of teacher training colleges. Some ten thousand such teachers are unemployed. The obvious remedy is to discourage further production of the unemployable cadre, the simple logic of the shortest distance between two points. So you pay teacher-training colleges half as much for an Arab student as you pay them for a Jewish student. You don’t have to beat around the bush: yes there is demand for teachers in the fields of English and mathematics and in Jewish schools in general as well as in Bedouin schools in the south of the country. But the Minister of Education is a sane man who admits proudly that he has killed many a Palestinian and it never caused him any loss of sleep. So why should he encumber the progress of the Jewish mind by the drag on it of the feebleness of the Arab mind? Why would you expect him to scramble the dividing line between the Arab and Jewish educational systems? That would be intolerable.

With Bennett’s remarkable honesty and openness, the budgeting method is reduced to ferreting of names. A teachers college submits a list of the names of its students and the two ethnic groups are clearly distinguishable: An Arab name (except for those of Bedouins in the south of the country) gets 56% of what a Jewish name does. What happens if the geographic and ethnic coordinates conflict with the subject of specialization, you may ask? What if an Arab teacher trainee, say Ahmad from the north, is registered to study math or English? Tough luck. 56% it is, period! Ethnicity trumps (oh, oh! For some reason that verb sounds vulgar!) specialty. The minister’s straight-line logic now gets fuzzy: Arabs are quick to brandish the libel of racism every time they are faced with their ineptitude.

“In my view it’s real racism,” said a senior official at one of the Arab teacher training colleges. “There’s no other explanation for it.”

Faced with the libel of racism, Bennett’s ministry officials enlighten us about the real reason underlying the difference in support of teacher training between Arabs and Jews. Apparently it is to empower Arab women in Israel.

“Most of our students are women,” the [same] official continued. “In other words, we’re not only talking about studies for the purpose of finding work, but about the empowerment of Arab women. What will happen now – the women won’t work and won’t get an education either?

“Because there’s no work, they’re not entitled to get an education? The problem of unemployment exists in the Arab community in other areas as well. Not only in education.”

And who is to blame for that?

He added that when he and others complained to the Education Ministry that its decision was racist, “they told us that it’s because of the Arab Knesset members, who say constantly that there is a glut of Arab teachers and it’s a problem. And they asked that we stop training teachers.”

Every time Haneen Zoabi appears in her burka behind the Knesset speakers’ podium she appeals to all her compassionate colleagues to stop training Arab women teachers. Otherwise alternative methods of reducing their numbers may have to be borrowed from the armed forces’ experience in recent years in dealing with Gaza’s civilians.

That was when my eureka moment hit. One of my American guests lifted his eyes from the newspaper (notice: I intentionally did not use any descriptive for the paper; I am sick and tired of interruptions and bracketed remarks and innuendos) and interrupted me while I pointed out the exact spot where Jesus walked on water to ask why don’t Arab (he actually used ‘Palestinian’ but I am taking into consideration the likelihood that my reader may have gotten irked by my insistence on using the ‘P’ word to identify my people) students study more employable specialties. Why don’t the poor devils shift to atomic science, space science, aeronautics or pilot training? “Who is going to fly and service all the F-35s that Israel is getting?”

Bennett doesn’t seem to worry about that. What bothers him, I think, are those Bedouins who may fall in the cracks. How does he expect his ministry’s Ferreting the Arab Race Taskforce (FART) to tell Ahmad the Bedouin from a village Ahmad? If nothing else, that must keep him up nights.

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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6 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    July 19, 2016, 4:12 pm

    another awesome article by Hatim!

  2. Mooser
    July 19, 2016, 5:39 pm

    ‘Splain it to us, “Jon s”.

  3. DaBakr
    July 19, 2016, 9:14 pm

    not a bad article. nice use of the tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek. i could argue with a few points but the article stands as a legitimate oppositional stance from a well known prominent israeli who has something to say that some israelis need to listen to.

  4. johneill
    July 19, 2016, 10:35 pm

    this was unexpectedly funny. great writing!

  5. Rodneywatts
    July 21, 2016, 4:22 am

    Great stuff Hatim–and so timely as I engage, in the UK, with someone from South Africa who declares that to say Israel is an apartheid state is a LIE. His evidence is partly that in Nahariyya the benches by the beach are used by Jews and Arabs alike ( not like in real apartheid SA where whites were separated from others) Also there are mixed races staffing the hospitals!

    • Hatim Kanaaneh
      July 21, 2016, 4:02 pm

      Of course, if you define Apartheid as the exact same system that South Africa once had then Israel is not an apartheid state. If you define apartheid as two laws for two peoples then Israel is an apartheid state.

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