Israeli Education Ministry Promotes Plan to Integrate Foreign Children in North Tel Aviv

Israeli Children
Children in south Tel Aviv, in April. Credit: Moti Milrod

By Shira Kadari-Ovadia and  Bar Peleg  Published: JUN 26, 2023, 10:45 AM

The plan, being promoted by Israel’s education minister Yoav Kisch will reduce the number of students in non-segregated schools in the city’s south, sending a small number to the north and others to schools with foreign students only

The Israeli Education Ministry is considering creating a unique program aimed at integrating children of asylum seekers, who live in south Tel Aviv neighborhoods, into 15 schools in the city’s north.

One of the program’s objectives is to avoid an increase of foreign children studying in non-segregated schools in the city’s south. In the past, many residents of the southern neighborhoods raised objections to the high number of foreigners who attended schools in the area.

The plan, promoted by Education Minister Yoav Kisch, will offer 120 children due to begin first grade in Tel Aviv next year, and who have no legal status in Israel, the option to attend schools outside their own neighborhoods, and include travel assistance to and from school.

Foreign Children
Families in south Tel Aviv, in February. Credit: Hadas Parush

The program limits the number of foreign students to three in each class and fifteen in each school. To be implemented, the program needs the approval of the State Attorney’s o ce, which fears the decision will set a precedent with broad consequences. Israel’s Supreme Court is set to discuss the issue next week.

According to a source familiar with the program, it will only apply to children whose parents approve of their integration into north Tel Aviv schools.

The source added that there is a concern many families would prefer not to send their children north to avoid separating them from older siblings already attending schools in the city’s south. In light of this, the Education Ministry is considering offering incentives to families to encourage them to enroll in the program.

 

Being the child of asylum seekers in Israel ‘hurts every day’

In addition, the program will include a restriction on the number of foreign students who attend schools in southern neighborhoods, the source said. The Education Ministry will ensure the percentage of foreign students in non- segregated schools will be 30 percent at most, and so also intends to refer students to schools for foreign children only, such as the Bialik-Rogozin school.

The new program includes an additional budget for English studies in schools with foreign students to prepare the students for life outside of Israel, a senior source said.

Israel’s former interior minister Ayelet Shaked had previously tried to promote a model of separate schools for foreigners based on schools for ambassadors, in which everything is taught in English and without any Israeli content. The motivation behind this model is to prevent foreign children developing a connection to Israel, and reduce their desire to remain in the country.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, in March. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai rejected Shaked’s plan outright. The municipality does not object to an increase of English study hours for foreign children, but sources said they doubt the necessary funding would actually be allocated.

The program will be discussed next week in the Supreme Court in response to a petition submitted on behalf of dozens of asylum seekers who demand their children be equally integrated into the Tel Aviv school system.

The petition was submitted by attorneys Haran Reichman, from the Law and Education Policy Clinic at the University of Haifa, and Tal Hasin from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, following a 2020 Haaretz investigation which revealed 91.5% of foreign children in Tel Aviv studied in schools without even a single Israeli student.

During discussions last year in response to the petition, an agreement was reached that would allow the integration of foreign students in the city’s North. The Education Ministry, however, refused to fund their transportation, and so the program was cancelled. Consequently, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected the petition in July, as no criminal violation could be proven.

Attorneys Reichman and Hasin decided to appeal to the Supreme Court, and next week a hearing is expected to take place before judges Khaled Kabub, Gila Kanfi Steinitz and Isaac Amit.

A school in the Hatikvah
A school in the Hatikvah neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, in 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

As of last year, 8,252 minors whose parents are asylum seekers from Eritrea or Sudan lived in Israel. A vast majority among them, some 6,660, are less than 12 years old and were born in Israel. 3,774 of them live in Tel Aviv, mainly in the three southern neighborhoods Neve Sha’anan, Hatikva and Shapira.

These children are protected under group protection that forbids Israel from deporting them to their countries of origin. They are not, however, entitled to legal status and have no rights.