Shared Society Approach

Segregation in the Israeli School System

Due to its war-ridden history and the current political tension, violence is a major problem in Israel in general. The ongoing conflicts between different religious and ethnic groups are a major contributing factor. This is reflected in societal structures such as the Israeli school system, which is divided into four different sectors, preventing cross-sector social cohesion between Jews with different degrees of religiousness as well as all the Arab-speaking minorities within the country. While parents can be comforted by the fact that the education reflects their own principles which they wish to pass on to their youngsters, this seperation in the school system leads to a stark absence of mingling between population groups with different origines and mindets from an early age onwards, dividing the country further.

Detailed Information About the School Sectors

State Secular (Mamlachti)

State Religious (Mamlachti dati)

Independent Jewish-Orthodox (Chinuch Atzmai)

Arab Schools

Private Schools

These public schools provide general education in a range of subjects, while implementing programs that encourage a Jewish and Zionist Israeli identification. The basic curriculum encompasses mathematics, language skills, science, social studies, arts and physical education as well as a minimal amount of Jewish studies (basic tanach), some with the option of Jewish enrichment programs.

The teaching language is Hebrew. Classes are co-educated.

Graduates from these schools receive their high school diploma Bagrut and usually join the Israeli Defense Forces for their obligatory army service before studying.

These nationalreligious schools have a similar curriculum to the secular state schools, while emphasizing Jewish tradition, elaborating on Jewish studies and creating an atmosphere of religious observance of the tora. The school staff and pupils adhere to religious norms and observe daily prayers. Jewish-nationalist and Zionist values are part of the education. The classes are held in Hebrew and are typically gender-segregated from an early age onward. The amount of co-education classrooms in on the decline.

Graduates from these schools also receive the Bagrut and join the IDF after finishing high school before continuing to higher studies.

These “Haredi” (Jewish ultra-Orthodox ) schools focus almost entirely on extensive religious studies of the tora and talmud and offer little in terms of secular subjects. Religious observance is a fundamental aspect of the school setting. There is a seperate teaching framework in place for boys and girls. Classes take place in Hebrew and Yiddish.

These schools are state supported financially, however the Ministry of Education is not responsible for the curriculum, personnel or administration. Pupils studying here usually do not earn a high school diploma (Bagrut) as the education system ignores core subjects of the matriculation examinations, instead they continue on with religious studies.

This lack of basic curricula due to the educational sectors independence resulting in missing job qualifications and a subsequent absence from the country’s work force is ritized by parts of the Israeli society and seen as a major social problem.

This sector of education encompassed Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin schools. The common trait of these schools is Arabic as the language of instruction. They have a special focus on Arab history, religion, and culture. Pupils can graduate and access higher education, though some Druze and Bedouins are considered loyal to the State and therefore join the IDF.

Even though Israel signed the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, and ratified it in 1961, the Arab Israeli education system was bitterly neglected in favor of the Jewish sectors in the past. This discrimination manifested itself through a lack of resources allocated by the State to the Arab school sector resulting in disparities in terms of academic achievements and socio-economic income relative to the Hebrew speaking population. To date, there is a major disparity in the budget per student in these two education systems. Therefore, in comparison students in government-run Arab schools receive inferior education due to fewer teachers, inadequate schooling material for the specific needs of the pupils, inadequate school construction, a lack of libraries and recreational space.

The latest PISA studies published in 2019 by the OECD found that Israel has the worst socioeconomic gap between Hebrew-speaking und Arabic Israeli Youth in subjects such as reading, maths and sciences. These recordeed achievement gaps have widened since former surveys.

In addition to these schools, there is a rising number of independent private schools which operate under various religious and international auspices. They reflect the specific religious affiliation, philosophies, pedagogies and values of parents and educators.

Special Education

Pupils with learning disablities, physical or mental handicaps have special needs in regards to the support they require to maneuvre successfully through the educational system. Therefore, these children are given access to the appropriate framework according to the nature and extent of their disability in aims of achieving the highest degree of integration in school, work and general societal life. For some pupils special education schools are the most suitable options, while others take part in mainstream classroom teaching and receive supplementary support.

Youth at Risk 

“Youth at risk” can be defined as “the population of youth who have difficulties functioning within their age-specific educational and social settings, and eventually drop out of the normative route” (Etzion & Romi 2015). Youth at Risk schools are educational institutions specialized on pupils with problematic behavior, oftentimes due to challenging backgrounds, that cause them to drop out of school eventually.

Common traits of youth at risk can be a difficult family upbringing (often including abandonment, violence and abuse) as well as a set of problematic conduct pattern such as different forms of violence, vandalism or substance abuse. Some of these children and adolescents were removed from their family environments and institutionalized by court order, other may be homeless until finding refuge in a shelter. The biographies of youth at risk are numerous and display a variety of problematic factors. All of them share the common factor that as a consequence of their life circumstances, they are unable to partake in the regular educational activities in mainstream schooling. 

Our Approach

Matzmichim (Uplifters) acknowledges how deeply divided the modern Israeli Society is on questions of identity and national unity. In an era of rising nationalism and populism worldwide, this country poses no exception to these shocking trends. The politics of the last years have only contributed to this development by stoking fear, driving wedges between people and tearing the Israeli society apart. While the divisions between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, “Left” and “Right””, periphery and center, rich and poor are lines that segment modern Israel, the population is primarily structured along the categories of secular Jews, national-religious Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab Israelis, each of them a distinct minority with its own educational system with the purpose of shaping the worldviews of their offspring. Matzmichim (Uplifters) has identified this educational segregation that shapes the mindset of every Israelis as a major factor reinforcing ethnic and religious seclusion as well as animosity, racism and violence.

So how can we encounter this phenomenon? In his Four Tribes Speech, held in 2015, president Reuven Rivlin said the following:

“We are dealing here with a cultural and religious identity gap and sometimes an abyss between the mainstreams of each of the camps; between four different and rich engines of identity. Despite the challenges the ‘new Israeli order’ poses, we must recognize that we are not condemned to be punished by the developing Israeli mosaic – but rather it offers a tremendous opportunity. It encompasses cultural richness, inspiration, humanity and sensitivity. We must not allow the ‘new Israeli order’ to cajole us into sectarianism and separation.”

Therefore, we implement our programs in all school sectors, working with pupils and educators all over the country in order to influence the development in each individual sector.

At the same time, we break through the constraints of the educational system by bringing together educators and pupils from different sectors based on the common goal of reducing violence in their own environments, enabling professional and personal exchange, promoting mutual respect and understanding while contributing to a reduction of stereotypical perceptions of “the other”. Through our efforts, we create bonds and strengthen ties between different communities, helping to bridge the gap between the kaleidoscope of groups that make up the modern Israel in an effort to build a shared society.

Defining a “Shared Society”

The peacebuilding process between the Israeli Jewish and Arab communities has shifted from the unsatisfactory and disappointing approach of co-existence, defined as a situation where different groups constitute one society living together side by side, to the vision of a shared society

This term designates the notion that human interaction is to be understood as a dialogue, in which groups and individuals partake in an ongoing process of co-constructing their joint reality, joint future, and even their joint identity. The term shared society thus refers to a society where all individuals hold equal status and mutual responsibility, are free to express differences and integrate their voices into the broader population.