High school students (illustrative)
High school students (illustrative) Israel news photo: Flash 90

Students and parents in the city of Ashkelon have recently complained that school trips planned for next year under the auspices of the Education Ministry’s Social and Youth Division will include tours of churches and other various Christian sites.

The complaints were received by the Shas party’s Ashkelon branch, which is publicly calling on the Ministry to cancel these tours.

Former Deputy Mayor of Ashkelon and current councilman Shimon Cohen of Shas, said on Thursday that this is not the first time the city council has had to deal with this issue.

“Students and parents from one of the high schools in the city approached us and warned of the phenomenon,” Cohen told Arutz Sheva’s Hebrew-language news service. “They told us that such trips had taken place last year and they know it will happen again next year.”

Cohen called for the cancellation of these trips.

“It’s true that the guide allows those who do not wish to visit a Christian site stay on the bus, but the Ministry guidelines that we received show these sites as part of trips,” he said. “It’s a very serious issue that after two thousand years during which we were scattered among the nations and finally came to our State to maintain a Jewish character that students are taken to visit churches.”

Cohen emphasized that the Shas faction will not let go until the issue is resolved.

“We have enough Jewish sites in Israel,” he said. “The Minister of Education has already said that these trips should include a visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs and we also have the Western Wall and places such as graves of Tannaim and Amoraim which represent our entire history and heritage. We do not need to visit churches and Christian sites. Anyone who wants to visit churches should do it privately and not in public, let alone through school which is supposed to teach Jewish values.”

The Ministry of Education’s Southern District said in response that alongside the curriculum which teaches Israel’s cultural and deepens Jewish identity, the Ministry also leads programs that teach the values of tolerance and knowledge of other cultures.

“There is no directive prohibiting visits to historical and cultural sites such as churches, mosques and synagogues, and these are held in accordance with the curriculum,” the Ministry said. “It should be clarified and emphasized that students and teachers are not obliged to enter such sites if they do not wish to do so.”

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