Israeli outlet Ynet has reported a worrying increase in expressions of racism among Israeli schoolchildren.
In December 2010 a group of 472 schoolteachers signed a petition calling upon Israel’s Minister of Education, Gideon Saar, to express a clear public position against racism and to initiate programs to combat growing expressions of racism in schools.
In an interview with YNet, civics teachers elaborated on the ‘battlefield’ they encounter every day when attempting to inculcate values of democracy and equality among their pupils.
One teacher reported to YNet how an outstanding, well-informed pupil wrote “Death to the Arabs” in response to a test question in civics. In another case, a pupil stood up in class and declared “My dream is to be a volunteer with the Border Guards so that I can spray Arabs to death”. His classmates applauded him loudly. Other instances included graffiti on school walls and desks, with statements like “Kahane was right”; “A good Arab is a dead Arab”; and hate slogans against ultra-orthodox Jews and asylum seekers in Israel.
Another teacher, from central Israel, told YNet reporters about the challenges she encounters when working with her pupils. “When issues of equality are discussed, the lesson immediately goes out of control. The pupils attack us, the teachers, and accuse us of being leftists and anti-semites, saying that all Arab citizens of Israeli should be transferred out of the country because they want to destroy Israel”.
The same teacher said that hate speech is used especially when she teaches the case of the massacre at Kafr Qassem, in which innocent Arab civilians were intentionally shot dead by Israeli forces in their village in 1956 during the Suez crisis. The soldiers had been ordered to shoot on sight villagers returning from their fields, although they knew the villagers were ignorant of a curfew that had been declared that day. The civics chapter dealing with this event addresses the duty to disobey a “patently illegal order.”
“It’s very sad,” said the teacher, “but the pupils justify the massacre and say that a good Arab is a dead Arab.”
“Often, pupils who want to speak out in support of human rights avoid doing so for fear of the responses of their classmates, or they open with an apology, clarifying that they do not like Arabs,” she added.
Teachers have accused politicians of encouraging hatred. An official working within the education system said: “we are not dealing with a minority here, nor with children from known extremist families; these are normal children who are ignorant, and public political discourse in recent years has provided them with legitimacy for holding racist views.” “These are not isolated acts of mischief but deep and worrying phenomena that characterize Israeli youth today,” the official added.
Miriam Darmony-Sharvit, who is a supervisor for Civics teaching in the Centre for Educational Technology, reports frequent complaints from her colleagues, who say the situation in the schoolrooms has become unbearable.
“The teachers are truly distressed. They are exhausted and some of them feel that the encounter with the pupils is too difficult emotionally,” she said. “They feel as if they are in a battlefield, and for this reason they often use ‘survival’ tactics, aiming to achieve quiet and calm in the class by skipping chapters or by dry dictation of materials.”
The Ministry of Education responded to queries from YNet, saying “the pedagogic supervisor for Civics in the ministry has circulated a letter to all civics teachers in the country, stressing that civics teachers must make a clear distinction between disagreement with the ‘other’ and his positions or lifestyles, and hatred, negative generalizations or human delegitimisation of the other – which are not legitimate.
“The pedagogic supervisor for civics has stressed that the mission of the education system is to raise a generation that will be free of racist views, and able to manage tensions and disagreements in society in a manner that respects the values of Judaism and the values of democracy, on which our state is founded. The Ministry regards any racist or aggressive behavior as negative and continues to work for education that teaches tolerance.”