Saturday, September 5

Racism in Israel

The new school term has commenced with the end of the sizzling summer holidays. Most kids are returning to their lessons. A sizeable number in Petah Tikva will not be returning to school. They are the Ethiopian children. The reason - their skin colour! They have been banned from the private religious orthodox schools.

Despite threats by the Ministry of Education to halt funds to these schools for their blatant racism, no solution has been found. Presumably these religious schools stick to the Tanachic ruling that black people (Hamites) are destined to be slaves in the literal sense because of the curse of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. In other words, they are not recognized as Jews because of their skin colour and their origin as one of the tribes of Cush. There is no other explanation.

It is a shame that Israel has many streams of education. The ultra-Orthodox stream is private with subsidies coming from the state. Their education is narrow and does not really equip students for competing in the secular world with the most basic skills. Their graduates are the perpetual Yeshiva students condemned to a life bordering on poverty and existence from charities in their quest for perpetual study.

Surely an attempt should be made to enroll the Ethiopian children into secular schools rather than partisan religious schools who do not want them in any case. Who says that Ethiopians must go to racist religious schools whose human values are poor if not non-existent?

Racism in society is despicable and ought to be condemned. Israel is losing its values. It starts with hatred of Arabs and those who do not conform to “Zionist” values. The racist society then turns inward and seeks out those who have physical features that are different (skin colour) even including Jews of Ethiopian origin.

The education standards in schools have dropped in Israel. No doubt it will drop even further as private religious stream education becomes more prevalent. This continues and will continue as the Netanyahu government sells out to ultra-Orthodox bigotry in education. It is translated into money to keep their unholy alliance with the ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism and Shas Parties. This perpetuates the racial hatred of those not identifying themselves with ultra-Orthodox thinking.

A society that loses its values in education becomes less tolerant to those who are different. The government should adopt an education policy that is translated into encouraging unity amongst the people. This means schools that integrate all its pupils, irrespective of race colour or creed should be given increased subsidies from the state. Arab and Jewish kids should receive the same education in the same schools. When it comes to religious instruction, the various religious groups could attend classes within the school framework conducted by their respective religious leaders who are members of the school staff.

This would encourage a common patriotic identity irrespective of race, colour or creed. It would also increase tolerance between pupils of different faiths. Racial as well as religious prejudice would be minimized substantially.

Problematic subjects such as the Zionist narrative of the history of Israel and the Arab narrative of the Naqba (catastrophe) could be taught on an equal basis to both Arab and Jewish pupils with sensitivity for the feelings of both sides and the lessons that both sides receive from the various narratives. If this would be done professionally it would create a common patriotism that both Jews and Arabs can share from a very young age. It would also save a lot of state money which is squandered on sectarian schools catering for various religious groups with values that are chauvinistic at best and downright racist at worst as witnessed in various ultra-Orthodox schools in Petah Tikva against Ethiopian pupils.

It is not only in the sphere of education that racism occurs but also in state attitudes towards foreign workers. Care-givers from the Philippines, agricultural workers, domestic workers and those in the building trade are hounded by the Oz Unit of the police force after their permits have expired. These people have been exploited; many have had their personal freedom curtailed while working here.

The exploitation is a result of the need to employ people to do jobs that Israelis are not prepared to do. In the “good old days”, Palestinian workers used to do all the menial cheap labour. Since the intifada this has ceased and reliance is now on foreign workers for a short period under contract.

It may be argued that exploitation of foreign workers is not necessarily racism. This is true up to a point, however, one cannot avoid asking the question that had the workers been Jewish, the Law of Return would apply and expulsion would not be considered an option once their contract has expired. Foreign workers interact with the population of the country in which they live even bonding with Israelis. There have even been cases of intermarriage. This, of course, creates problems with the Rabbinate and the situation of either “convert or leave” is created.

No comments: