Creating a Diverse Shared Society

Israeli Hope – Creating a Diverse Shared Society
Levinsky College of Education

Dr. Ohr Margalit, Israeli Hope Officer

Israeli Hope is President Rivlin’s flagship program for strengthening statehood and establishing a partnership between the four main sectors that comprise Israeli society: secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, and Arab. Israeli Hope operates in key social and economic fields – in education, academia, employment, sport, and more. Israeli Hope seeks to strengthen the "togetherness" of Israeli society, through giving respect and place to every group that comprises it, in order to ensure the strength and prosperity of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Israeli Hope, President’s House Website (retrieved 19.11.20)

President Reuven Rivlin’s Israeli Hope

In a speech at the Herzliya Conference of 2015, the President called upon Israeli society at large to recognize the far reaching change Israeli Society has undergone over the past few decades. During most of the second half of the 20th century, Israel saw itself as consisting of a broad majority of secular Zionist Jews with a few, relatively small minorities. Thus, as late as 1990, 52% of first graders were enrolled in the secular school system, while only 23% were enrolled in the Arab system, 21% in the ultra-Orthodox system and 15% in the religious system.  While the rights of all citizens, including these minorities, were enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”, it was also understood that the secular Jewish Zionist majority would set the agenda for Israeli society. Israel was envisioned as the ingathering of the Jewish diaspora that was to join the melting pot of Jewish secular Zionist society, epitomized by mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). Minorities would have to fall in line.

It is no longer viable to view Israeli society in this manner. As the President pointed out in 2015, there will soon be an equal number of first grade children from each sector. Secular, religious, Arab and ultra-Orthodox citizens not only have their separate, state funded school systems, but large portions of each sector also conduct their lives in virtual seclusion from one another. Elad, for instance, is entirely ultra-Orthodox, Sakhnin completely Arab, while Efrat’s inhabitants are virtually all religious like many other settlements that are entirely religious or secular. The separation between these sectors of society is far from limited to the physical realm. Each sector has a separate culture, some speak a different language and, no less importantly, each espouses a different ideal and ideology on a variety of topics. The very definition of the State of Israel as both Jewish and democratic is not agreed upon; citizens from the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors do not, by and large, serve in the IDF, each for their own ideological reasons.

This state of affairs affects everything in Israel from politics to culture, civil society to the economy and even takes its toll on the country’s wellbeing and resilience. A small example that is very pertinent to teacher training can be given from the need for teachers in the school system. While the Arab school system is overloaded with teachers, waiting sometimes for years to get a job, or traveling long distances in order to teach, the Hebrew speaking school system suffers from a dearth of teachers. Another example pertaining to the economy and human resources is the engagement of the ultra-orthodox who could be employed in various companies, but are not, due to cultural barriers. A recent and striking example of how the separation between the different sectors of society hinders Israel’s resilience in the face of challenges is the endeavor to control the Coronavirus outbreak. Lack of awareness of relevant life circumstances, cultural conceptions and barriers between different sectors account, no doubt, for some of the discrepancy between the varying degrees of success in coping with the virus among the secular, religious, Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations. The manner in which each group has been portrayed to the other in the various media has surely not helped the growing animosity. This last example serves as an excellent demonstration of the Presidents’ point. As real and important as the disagreements between the sectors are, citizens of all sectors want to get rid of the virus. This is not a zero sum game. On the contrary, the only way to overcome the virus is to overcome it together. That means to find ways to improve understanding and cooperation between the “tribes”.


Levinsky College of Education and Israeli Hope

Levinsky College of Education (LCE) was the first Israeli academic institution to teach its curriculum entirely in Hebrew. Since its establishment in 1912, it has graduated tens of thousands of teachers and has been part of the public education system over the generations. As such, there has never been any doubt as to its secular, Jewish and Zionist identity and it has always trained teachers for the secular public school system. At the same time, LCE is proud to accept religious students and Arab students – and its gates are open to anyone interested in teacher training without discrimination. LCE’s mission includes leading “change in education and society…. [and it] encourages its graduates to strive for… intercultural sensitivity and social involvement…”. Its core values include, among others, “Human dignity and freedom”, “Generosity and cultural sensitivity”, and “Respect for cultural capital and heritage”. It should then come as no surprise that when President Rivlin called for academic institutions to join his vision for an inclusive Israeli society, LCE responded at once (the fact that funding for this purpose was awarded only to institutions under The Planning and Budgeting Committee notwithstanding).

It is worth pointing out that in accordance with its humanistic values and as a teacher college, the interest of LCE and similar institutions in the President’s Israeli Hope goes beyond questions of utility and defined ‘tribes’. Respecting people’s human dignity means viewing each person as an end in and of themselves and taking into account their world view. “Respect for cultural capital and heritage” is not limited to larger tribes or those recognized by the State for separate school systems. LCE is interested in implementing ideas about mutual group respect and cooperation with members of all groups who choose to attend the college, including, and not limited to, new immigrants, those from Russian speaking backgrounds, or those from the Ethiopian community. These ideas dovetail nicely with those of humanistic education in general and LCE’s particular interest in Social Emotional Learning.

LCE is in a unique position in terms of its ability to influence the interactions of individuals from different sectors and their views of one another. To begin with, for many individuals who have grown up in their separate sectors, the campus of an academic institution is the first place where they have the chance to meet and interact.  The right setting can ensure that positive opportunities present themselves, and the institution has the means and ways to provide education in this spirit. In addition, LCE’s students will ultimately affect the views of generations of their students. We believe this can be true of a good math teacher no less than a good civics teacher or homeroom class teacher. It stands to reason that if teachers graduating LCE will pursue the goal of educating their students about a shared society, they could have an immense impact, and all the more so if they end up teaching in a sector that is “not their own”.



People from every group get a seat at the table.

Israeli Hope is not just about making sure every individual’s rights are protected and not even only that we take into account their special needs – although this is certainly necessary. It is about the changing identity of the collective “we”. As long as there is one heterogeneous group ensuring everyone's rights and leading the way, no matter how well intentioned, other groups will never be full partners or bear full responsibility for the collective’s shared identity. It may not be immediately obvious, but beyond the very important symbolism of having a seat at the table, this usually has far-reaching practical implications. As long as one heterogeneous group runs things, it is likely that other perspectives will be missed completely. Even with the best intentions in mind, the hegemonic group cannot be aware of all the needs of individuals of other groups. Even if they invite them to voice their opinion, unless they are full and equal partners, there are a myriad of reasons why they may choose not to do so.  Steps must be taken therefore to diversify and ensure representation at all levels.

LCE’s first step upon joining Israeli Hope in Academia, was to form a steering committee that was as diverse as possible. It included administrative and academic staff of various levels, students and lecturers, women and men, Arabs and Jews, religious and secular, sabras and those born abroad. With the help of Gevanim (an organization that specializes in dialogue between different parts of Israeli society), the steering committee underwent a think-tank-like process of studying issues related to Israeli Hope and thinking about how they could be advanced in LCE. The diverse identities and points of view of the group’s members were used as a central asset to be learned from and were supplemented with field trips to other institutions and places deemed by the group to be helpful. For instance, the committee visited the ALYN hospital, a pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility that treats children from all groups in Israeli society, which underwent a process of heightening its cultural sensitivity.

Every year since, LCE has had a similarly diverse group working on how to further issues of Israeli Hope. These groups have initiated several projects that have been funded by the Edmond de Rothschild Fund and much of the activity has taken place directly or indirectly as a result of group members and the steering committee.

The President House staff have been pivotal in leading institutions like LCE both individually and in a joint process as they turn Israeli Hope in Academia into reality.  The following paragraphs present the four goals of Israeli Hope in Academia and their implementation at LCE.

1. Diversity and Representation
To increase diversity and the representation of Israel’s various population groups in all sections of the institutions and at all levels of the academic hierarchy, particularly among the senior administrative and academic personnel, with the aim of achieving the full potential of the talents and excellence in the whole range of Israeli society.
The President’s Residence Website

Student Body Diversity
LCE has special programs that cater to the needs of ultra-orthodox students (who wish to study separately), as well as to the needs of Arab, Druze, new immigrants and students within LCE’s regular programs. Students whose mother tongue is not Hebrew, for instance, are entitled to various linguistic accommodations. LCE has recently appointed an Arab Society Coordinator. The coordinator is in charge of helping the Arab students overcome linguistic and cultural barriers, but no less so to help faculty and the LCE administration as a whole to overcome blind spots regarding Arab students' culture and their unique needs. It is worth noting that LCE has been quite successful in appealing to Arab candidates who had previously comprised a smaller percentage than their percentage in society. It has made a similar appeal to Jewish Ethiopian students.  LCE has established a ‘Student for Student’ program that is geared towards students from different backgrounds.  First year students are partnered with second or third year students who help them out with their acclimation to academic life and together they are encouraged to not only share social activities, but also to plan social activities for other students of diverse backgrounds.

2. Cultural Competence
To improve the compatibility of the institutions and the system to the various groups within them through perception of the campus as a space for the creation of a shared “Israelihood” that allows the preservation of the unique identity of each group.
The President’s Residence Website

Since LCE joined Israeli Hope, it has become much more aware of the diverse cultures of its students and staff. It regularly notes Muslims, Christians and Druze holidays alongside Jewish ones not only in its announcements, but also in special events and in its academic calendar. Thus, for example, over the last few years, an ornamented tree was set up beside a Hanukkah candelabra, an explanation about the Druze holiday of Eid Alhader, as well as an explanation about the celebration of the birth of the prophet Mohamad. Special events have also been held in honor of the Ethiopian Jews’ holiday, Sigd. The academic calendar takes into account Novi-God, observed by many Russian speaking students; as well as Purim eve, celebrated mainly by religious students.  Allowances are made for students of other religions as well.

The faculty and staff at LCE have been encouraged to become more culturally aware. In addition to the yearly groups studying issues related to Israeli Hope, mentioned above, the faculty and staff have been invited to take part in a variety of activities such as visiting Arab schools, partaking in iftar, and engaging with the ultra-orthodox society.  A course on Arabic and Arab culture was well attended and staff days have been devoted to expanding awareness of Israeli Hope and partaking in its activities. Art exhibits on subjects such as Diversity in Ethiopia, Women behind the Veil and other relevant issues have been held in LCE’s central gallery. A short film on LCE’s work in the field was produced on campus and has subsequently been used to disseminate its vision and ideals.

3. The Academic Graduate
To promote the commitment of academia to impart the knowledge, skills and experiences needed by the graduates for life in our Jewish and democratic state and in a society that encourages partnership, and that is committed to diverse social and intellectual Israeli leadership that is attentive and aware.
The President’s Residence Website   

 Many of the courses in LCE’s curriculum touch upon multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity. LCE was one of the pioneer academic institutions leading an “Israeli Hope Journey” course together with Sakhnin College. Students from both colleges traveled together throughout the country as they learned about the different segments of society and about one another, from each other. LCE continues to be instrumental in leading an online course engaging students from different backgrounds and institutions who work together to learn about multiculturalism in Israel and the Diaspora. Working in small diverse groups in academic settings is one of the central recommendations of the recently published Abraham Initiatives report on this matter.

LCE is intent on ensuring that the values of Israeli Hope are not only learned theoretically, but also put into practice by the students in their practicum. “Teaching Trainees Lead a Discourse of Hope" is a pilot project launched this year, where Arab and Jewish LCE music students undergo training for conducting discussions on charged issues and will bring their students together- from Hebrew and Arabic speaking schools – as they learn a bilingual repertoire.

4. The Academic-Employment Continuum
To reinforce the links between academia and employment and increase the commitment of academia to the employment of its graduates, particularly Arabs and Haredim.
The President’s Residence Website

LCE is proud to have one of the highest rates of job retention of any teacher college in the country. As mentioned above, LCE encourages students from the Arab sector to teach in Hebrew speaking schools. In addition to the standard curriculum, special preparation for teaching is offered in conjunction with Merhavim, which offers comprehensive accompaniment and guidance during a teacher’s first year of teaching.  LCE has also initiated teaching issues of Israeli Hope to its graduates, as they continue their training during their first and second years of teaching and is taking part in a special project aimed at teachers who work in a sector other than the one they were educated in.



Constant events serve as a reminder that even in the second decade of the 21st century, racism is alive and well worldwide and, unfortunately, Israel is no exception. At LCE we have recently come to the conclusion that alongside furthering the positive ideals of Israeli Hope and a shared society, we have no choice but to vigilantly and proactively pursue anti-racism. It is not enough to declare that we condemn racism. We must ask ourselves why racism continues to flourish, what prejudices we subconsciously or unwittingly reinforce with our own actions, and how the systems around us allow racism to exist, and what actions we can take to educate and combat systemic racism.

LCE chose to take a leading role in the fight against racism last year when the President of the College, Prof. Michal Beller, was the sole representative of higher education institutions to sign the Charter against Racism at the President's House. Since then, a close collaboration has been established between LCE and Israelis Against Racism, the association that initiated the charter. Anti-racism has been designated a central theme for college activity.  The steering committee of Israeli Hope at LCE together with the current think-tank group mentioned above met with representatives of the Ethiopian Jewish community, and a new course titled “Eradicating Racism” was established.  This course is participating in an international project with the European Union that aims to ensure that online courses are equally accessible to all and take into account the different identities and needs of its students.


Future Hope

The various sectors in Israeli society have their differences.  However, if all sectors work on eradicating racism, become equal partners, continue to get to know each other and respect each other, share both rights and responsibilities, we will all have a flourishing shared society, “bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants” (Declaration of Independence).  LCE is happy and proud to make a significant contribution to this process through its role as a teacher's college and has hope that it will indeed see this vision and process come to fruition.


The Israeli Hope Steering Committee at LCE:

Dr. Yael Kimhi, Chair, Dr. Ohr Margalit, Israeli Hope Officer, Dr. Lamis Odeh Saba, Dr. Rivka Hillel Lavian, Hadas Arazi, Dr. Einav Argaman, Efrat Ben Moshe, Dr. Dolly Eliyahu-Levi, Dr. Tamar Shoham-Gueta, Yardena Kedem, Osama Elwhwah, Dr. Housni Alkhateeb Shehada, Dr. Michal Ganz-Meishar