Two Schools for Two Peoples – A Different View of the Same Situation

In a recent edition of Foreign Policy Magazine, I learned of a nonprofit organization in Israel called Hand in Hand whose mission it is to offer a dual language / dual culture education to both Jewish and Arab children. The goal is to create an environment where children learn each other’s language and culture during a regular school day, thereby breaking down the barriers that often lead to mistrust and suspicion. As is often the case, this new approach to education was started by families whose parents were intermarried and saw a need to create a more inclusive educational experience for their children and others like them. Hand in Hand is not an either – or school; it offers lessons in Hebrew and Arabic, with both cultures, religions and histories represented in one broad curriculum. This should be viewed as an uplifting commentary on the amiability and nobility of Israeli and Palestinian families dedicated to overcoming the animosity and general abhorrence perpetuated by nearly seventy years of war. Upon closer inspection however, I found it was another falsely indignant piece of castigation, wrongfully aimed at the Jewish State, and hidden under the guise of righteous inclusion, a façade of progressive idealism.

Israel is quite often erroneously accused of being an apartheid state for supposedly advocating racism and xenophobia. There is a subtle implication that this has trickled down to the educational system via a non existent policy of de facto segregation. The fact that there is an absence of Arab enrollment in Jewish schools and an absence of Jewish enrollment in Arab schools does not support a systemic conspiracy to isolate Jews from Arabs in an effort to maintain segregationist policies that do not exist. It does however reflect the preference of Jewish and Arab parents to enroll their students in schools affiliated with their respective heritages. It also lends itself to certain basic tenets of human nature: humans beings typically feel more comfortable around people who are more similar to them. The commonality of faith, values, familial structure, and even education tend to bind people together. To deny this existential foundation would be to deny thousands of years of human history and the evolution of civilization.

Hand in Hand, the organization tasked with the difficult responsibility of facilitating a multicultural environment in which Jewish and Arab children can learn and grow, is a private institution. Private institutions are detached from the public sector, segregated, so to speak. In other words, the Israeli government has no jurisdiction over Hand in Hand, nor does it have any responsibilities to fulfill, or obligations to uphold towards them. It is an autonomous institution, free from government sanction, but excluded from federal subsidies. Inasmuch as Hand in Hand is a nonprofit organization, which implies that it is privately owned, the Israeli federal government should not be derided for its fiscal policy of not funding the bicultural private schools; this is similar to how American private schools do not receive any federal funding from the American government. Israeli private schools, just like American private schools, receive most of their funds from tuition and donors. Moreover, although Israel is closely associated with America, American racial tensions cannot be used as a scapegoat of influence for how Israel conducts its social policy.

A parallel appears to be drawn in the article between racial debates in the United States and Israel’s attitude towards its Arab citizens; “Given its association with racism in America, one might expect that segregated education to be controversial in Israel. But here, the opposite is true – it’s those trying to build an unsegregated system who are fighting for their right to exist.” Even though Israel is associated with America, it is not associated with its racial sentiments and social policies. While America is engulfed in contentious debate over what constitutes a micro aggression or which bathroom people should use, Israel is in a perpetual state of emergency, and has been since its first day of independence. The Jewish State is surrounded on all ends by enemies who have stated time and time again their diabolical intentions of seeing Israel wiped off the map. and yet, in the midst of the incessant threats to their existence and the barrage of rockets launched from Gaza, a very small percentage of men and women of Jewish and Muslim faith, maybe 1%, manage to fall in love, marry, have children and then attempt to educate them in the most peaceful and accepting environment possible. The brutal irony of this quotation is not just that Israel is depicted as the malicious antagonist, but the unnecessary and inappropriate suggestion that the supposed freedom fighters are the ones “who are fighting for their right to exist.” The bias of this statement is unparalleled.

What needs to be understood is the distinction between public and private sector economics. In the public sector, all institutions are subject to government oversight; they must follow all rules and regulations set forth by the governing body. The private sector is not regulated to the same extent and relinquishes funding in exchange for this freedom. It also needs to be acknowledged that one of the key foundations of human nature is that people tend to choose to be around those who are similar to them. Familiarity has been a driving force of human interactions and relationships since prehistory. The reality of the situation is that even while embroiled in a constant existential threat, Israel is a gracious country and their efforts to build an open and inclusive society should be praised and applauded. After all the Hand in Hand schools are all located in the Jewish State, the most prominent of which is in the capital city of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, yet not surprisingly, not a single one of these schools is located in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

About the Author
Harry Dardashti is a recent graduate of Florida State University where he received a BS in Economics and Middle Eastern studies.