This week, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine joined the Right to Education Campaign. The movement seeks to raise awareness of the claim that Israel denies the right to education to Palestinian students. As with any aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation is more complex than either side would like it to be and the issue therefore requires a close examination of the facts and realities involved. We wish to provide another perspective on this story.
Israel supports education for all its citizens; it has made tremendous strides in providing its citizens with equal opportunities for education. Today, Jewish, Arab, and Druze students all receive quality educations in state schools. This is a significant improvement over what the situation used to be. When the state of Israel was founded in 1948, there was only one Arab high school in the country. Today, more than 300,000 Arab students attend Israeli schools. Moreover, Arab and Jewish students often learn side by side, breaking down the cultural boundaries that often create so much tension between the two sides.
Israel's efforts to create a more equal education system have allowed its Arab citizens to achieve academic success. On last year's standardized tests, middle-class Arab students scored higher on average than middle-class Jewish students, reversing the previous trend. This kind of academic success by most minority segments of the population is almost unheard of in America. But Israel has not stopped there. Seeking to better integrate Arabs into higher education, Israel announced just two weeks ago that it will launch an Arab scholarship program. The government plans to invest $62 million in the program over the next six years. Initiatives like this demonstrate Israel's commitment to providing all of its citizens with the right to education.
While Palestinian education remains under the control of the Palestinian Authority, Israel has helped improve that system as well. The PA has started using textbooks published in Israel that include sections teaching the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The truth behind CSJP's claims can be difficult to assess. The conflict is more complicated than it appears on the surface. The only way to create productive conversation about the conflict is to acknowledge and address the faults that occur on both sides. While it has not always been the case, LionPAC is now ready and eager to engage in this type of discussion. However, CSJP refuses to participate in a dialogue with any type of pro-Israel group on our campus, regardless of its political perspectives. While CSJP has the right to call attention to any issues that it may find concerning, it also has the responsibility to educate itself by listening to, and trying to understand, other perspectives. As CSJP promotes the value of education this week, we call on it to embody this value and participate in constructive and open exchange.
Corey Freeman is a first-year in the joint program between Columbia and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is an associate fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Aviva Pratzer is a junior at Barnard College majoring in political science. She is the president of LionPAC.
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