Israel’s education minister has apologised to Ethiopian Israeli schoolgirls whose teachers mocked them in a WhatsApp group on a school trip.
The girls spotted the teachers messaging each other in a chat group they created called Black School Trip.
One of the girls filmed the chat over a teacher’s shoulder, then shared it on social media, calling the teachers “a disgrace”.
The teachers involved were suspended and the incident is being investigated.
There are about 150,000 citizens of Ethiopian origin in Israel, the first of whom arrived in sizeable numbers in a series of top secret Mossad-led operations in the 1980s.
The Ethiopian Jews’ integration in Israel has been challenging, with the community suffering disproportionately high levels of unemployment and poverty as well as discrimination, although their situation has shown signs of improvement in recent years.
Last Monday, teachers and pupils from a religious high school in Netivot, southern Israel, set off on a three-day trip.
Girls sitting behind one of the teachers saw her messaging in the group chat, which contained disparaging comments towards the Ethiopian Israeli pupils.
One of the pupils took a video of the chat in action without the teacher realising. A pupil then shared a message to the perpetrators on social media, attaching pictures of the offensive messages.
“Good morning to all the ‘educators’ of this school,” she wrote. “It saddens me as a member of the [Ethiopian] community to see the level you sank to today. Instead of being our teachers and setting an example and making us feel like we’re in our safest place, you did the exact opposite.
“Opening a group called ‘Black School Trip’ without even realising that there were students behind you and mocking your students? I see the photos, and I just don’t believe that they come from our teachers.
“You are a disgrace, I’m ashamed that you’re our teachers and that you’re teaching the future generation.”
The teachers involved were suspended and have apologised.
The school’s headmaster issued a statement, speaking of his “shock and devastation to miserable and extremely offensive comments from teachers about Ethiopian students who study in the school”.
“The school management looks at these comments severely. There is no place for racist comments, and we won’t allow them in our school.”
Israeli Education Minister Yoav Kisch also denounced the teachers.
“The incident will be dealt with severely with all the tools at our disposal,” he said. “I’m sorry for the distress that was caused for the students. There will be zero tolerance for these sorts of incidents on my watch.”