Allegations of blatant racism against Ethiopians in Kiryat Gat gripped the Israeli social and news media on Wednesday evening, after a kindergarten reportedly segregated its children by race, which the city later denied.
The furor began with an online posting by local resident Sefy Bililin, who said that when she brought her three-year-old daughter Pri-el for her first day of kindergarten on Sunday, she was shocked to find herself directed to a classroom designated for Ethiopian kids only.
“I haven’t been able to sleep since Sunday because of thoughts about where this generation is heading,” she wrote, adding that she was told to take her daughter to a secondary kindergarten in the building that was accessible only through a separate door.
Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata condemned the kindergarten’s policy, writing that the Ethiopian community’s “children are no different from any other child in Israel.” Upon complaining to the Education Ministry, she was told that an investigation was under way and the problem would be solved “immediately.”
“Don’t you dare segregate our children,” she wrote, addressing Kiryat Gat Mayor Aviram Dahari. “We will not let this pass in silence. Our children will grow up with full confidence that you and your workers will not separate and harm them because of the color of their skin.”
In a statement carried by news site Walla, the municipality denied the charges of racism, claiming that the children were assigned to kindergartens by a computerized system that sorted students “according to geographic area and parental requests for state and state-religious schools.” No other criteria were employed, it said.
“The lack of integration of Ethiopian immigrant students with the general population sets a bad example and is definitely inconsistent with the values of the Education Ministry,” the ministry said in a statement.
In light of the complaint, the ministry said that it had “summoned the city council representatives to an urgent meeting on the matter and also sent a letter to the municipality explaining the [its] position on this important issue.”