Education

In a classroom on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, young Israeli children – Jewish and Palestinian – play and study together, casually chatting and joking in a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. The opening of the first bilingual classrooms in Israel’s largest city was celebrated with great excitement last September. But only months into the educational experiment the mood has soured. Hundreds of parents staged a protest this month, chanting “All children are equal”.

Leaders of Israel’s large Palestinian minority have begun creating an alternative syllabus for Arab schools, in what they are terming “a revolutionary” step towards educational autonomy. It will be the first time in Israel’s history that the Palestinian minority has tried to wrest control of the curriculum taught in Arab schools from the Israeli education ministry. The move follows controversial revisions to the civics textbook.

With 47 independent church schools in Israel facing closure as they are starved of funding, many Christians are starting to suspect their government is waging a low-level war against them. Christians in neighbouring states are fleeing the Middle East as they face civil wars and threats of persecution. In Israel the mistreatment of Christians may be more bureaucratic than physical, but its effects are likely in the long run to prove just as tangible.

Israel is seeking to bring dozens of church-run schools under government control, a move that community leaders warn will curb the last vestiges of educational freedom for the country’s large Palestinian minority. The schools, which educate Christians and Muslims and are among the highest-achieving in Israel, are the only hope for most families trying to escape dire conditions in the government-run Arab education system.

The last thing Israeli leaders want is for Jewish and Palestinian citizens to develop shared interests, forge friendships and act in solidarity. That would start to erode the rationale for a Jewish state, especially one premised on the supposed need of the Jews to defend themselves from a hostile world – Israel’s self-image as “the villa in the jungle”. A Jewish state’s future precisely depends on the anti-Arab stereotypes inculcated in young Israeli minds.

Israel has unveiled an ambitious plan to build in Nazareth the first Israeli branch of an American university. But despite the economic benefits, Nazareth officials are concerned. Not least they fear the new campus will be used to drive a wedge further between Palestinian Christians and Muslims; stymie efforts by Palestinians in Israel to win educational autonomy; and strike a powerful blow against mounting pressure from the international movement for an academic and cultural boycott.

Israel’s right-wing government and its supporters stand accused of stoking an atmosphere of increasing intimidation and intolerance in schools and among groups working for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The government has also come under particular fire for its efforts to police the school curriculum to remove references to the Nakba and play down the rights of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who comprise a fifth of the population.

Measures designed to benefit Jewish school-leavers applying for places in Israeli higher education at the cost of their Arab counterparts have been criticised by lawyers and human rights groups. The new initiatives are viewed as part of an ongoing drive to demand “loyalty” from the country’s large minority population of Arab citizens. Critics have termed the measures, including a programme to provide financial aid exclusively to students who have served in the Israeli army, a form of “covert discrimination”.

The Israeli government is facing legal action for contempt over its refusal to implement a Supreme Court ruling that it end a policy of awarding preferential budgets to Jewish communities, including settlements, rather than much poorer Palestinian Arab towns and villages inside Israel. The contempt case on behalf of Israel’s Palestinian minority comes in the wake of growing criticism of the government for ignoring court decisions it does not like — a trend that has been noted by the Supreme Court justices themselves.

Hundreds of Israeli college professors have signed a petition accusing the education minister of endangering academic freedoms after he threatened to “punish” any lecturer or institution that supports a boycott of Israel. The backlash against Gideon Saar, a member of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, comes after a series of moves suggesting he is trying to stamp a more stridently right-wing agenda on the Israeli education system.

Israel’s finance minister was accused last week of trying to deflect attention from discriminatory policies keeping many of the country’s Arab families in poverty by blaming their economic troubles on what he described as Arab society’s opposition to women working. A recent report from Israel’s National Insurance Institute showed that half of all Arab families in Israel are classified as poor compared with just 14 per cent of Jewish families. Eighteen per cent of Arab women work, and only half of them full time, compared with at least 55 per cent of Jewish women.

Right-wing groups in Israel want to create a climate of fear among left-wing scholars at Israeli universities by emulating the “witch-hunt” tactics of the US academic monitoring group Campus Watch, Israeli professors warn. The watchdog groups IsraCampus and Israel Academia Monitor are believed to be stepping up their campaigns after the recent publication in a US newspaper of an Israeli professor’s call to boycott Israel.

The increasingly harsh political climate in Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government has prompted the leadership of the country’s 1.3 million Arab citizens to call the first general strike in several years. The one-day stoppage is due to take place on October 1, a date heavy with symbolism because it marks the anniversary of another general strike, in 2000 at the start of the second intifada when 13 Arab demonstrators were shot dead by Israeli police.

An Arab couple whose one-year-old daughter was expelled from an Israeli day-care centre on her first day are suing a Jewish mother for damages, accusing her of racist incitement against their child. Maysa and Shua’a Zuabi, from the village of Sulam in northern Israel, launched the court action last week saying they had been “shocked and humiliated” when the centre’s owner told them that six Jewish parents had demanded their daughter’s removal because she is an Arab.

A leading Arab educator in Israel has denounced the decision of Gideon Saar, the education minister, to require schools to study the Israeli national anthem. Officials announced last week that they were sending out special “national anthem kits” to 8,000 schools, including those in the separate Arab education system, in time for the start of the new academic year in September. The anthem, known as Ha-Tikva, or The Hope, has long been unpopular with Israel’s Arab minority because its lyrics refer only to a Jewish historical connection to the land.

Obstacles to Israel’s Arab minority participating in higher education have resulted in a record number of Arab students taking up places at universities in neighbouring Jordan, a new report reveals. Figures show 5,400 Arab students from Israel are at Jordanian universities – half the number of Arabs studying in Israel itself. Despite the fact that most Israeli Arab students in Jordan interviewed by the researchers expressed a preference to attend university in Israel, the numbers heading to Jordan have grown four-fold since 2004.

In the strange world of Israeli academia, an Arab college lecturer is being dismissed from his job because he refused to declare his “respect for the uniform of the Israeli army”. The bizarre demand was made of Nizar Hassan, director of several award-winning films, after he criticised a Jewish student who arrived in his film studies class at Sapir College in the Negev for wearing his uniform and carrying a gun.