The massacre of October 7 and the subsequent war have led to a rise in extremist attitudes among Jews and Arabs in Israel. A survey conducted by the Midgam company for Givat Haviva found that 63% of the Jewish public do not trust most Arab citizens of Israel (34% stated that they do trust most Arabs), while 29% of Arabs do not trust Jews in Israel (compared to 50% who do trust them). Moreover, 72% of Jews and 50% of Arabs are pessimistic about shared society.

The increasingly extremist views held by teachers and students demand help and intervention by educators. Many schools are afraid to discuss the subject and avoid doing so, even in the staffroom. The lack of attention to this issue filters down to the classrooms, where students encounter teachers who lack suitable tools for providing an emotional and educational response to the difficult questions that are raised. This reality may entrench extremist attitudes among the students. In Arab society, meanwhile, educators are extremely afraid to express any opinions or emotions about the war and the situation in general. They feel threatened and persecuted, and accordingly remain silent in the face of questions from their communities and students.[1]

Thus, at a time when itis needed more than ever, education for peace and shared society are being abandoned, as with education of civics and democracy. The need for a response is particularly urgent where Jewish and Arab educators interact. As a joint organization that also works with educators in normal times, we have developed content to respond to this need. However, the Ministry of Education must play the lead role in this area.

Israeli society will pay a heavy price for the failure to respond to extremism in the education system; the ramifications are liable to be severe and ongoing.

Given this reality, there is a need for educational leadership that can guide educators and help them navigate complex discourse on sensitive topical issues. This process should begin in staffrooms and then continue to encounter with students. Now is a time to offer hope for shared society and strengthen the sense of belonging and mutual responsibility.

Our recommendations:

Ÿ       An adapted plan for the current period should be prepared under the leadership of the Ministry of Education in order to strengthen teachers and provide them with the tools for engaging in dialogue with students on complex and sensitive issues. We suggest that the plan be based on a survey of attitudes among students and teachers. This process will enable actions to help the education system as a whole move toward the goal defined in the Director-General’s Circular on Shared Society, issued in December 2022. Among other points, the circular stated that “educators shall see education to coexistence and education against racism as a key part of their function, and shall acquire a sense of capacity, skills, and practical tools for meeting this function.” We should add that we are currently working on a survey as mentioned above and will be happy to share its findings with all the relevant functions.

Ÿ       At the same time, and given the need for urgent action pending the preparation of a full plan, we suggest that the following actions should be implemented in all districts in Israel:

  1. Workshops under professional supervision providing support and an opportunity to process emotions, perceptions, and attitudes.
  2. Familiarization with the experience and perspective of the other populations, including through encounters with key activists (from Jewish society in Arab schools and vice-versa).
  3. Tools and lesson plans for guiding complex and inclusive discourse in classrooms on the subject of the current events and the war.
  4. Encounters between high-school teachers and students and coexistence activists from both societies.

These actions have been proven effective in moderating prejudice and fear and can provide an initial, immediate and effective response while work continues to prepare a comprehensive educational plan for the entire education system in the area of responding to the severe impact of the hoors of October 7 and the subsequent war in the context of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel.

Submitted to the Knesset’s Education Committee, February 2024.

[1] The Knesset Education Committee is currently promoting the Proposed Law: Inspection of Schools (Amendment – Prohibition of Employment of Persons Convicted of Terror or Supporters of Terror and Inspection of the Content of Studies to Prevent Incitement, 5783-2023). This bill is one of many examples of developments that encourage this sense of fear. For further details, see here.

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