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Sep 20, 2016 07:49 AM EDT

Tel Aviv University's New Exchange Program Aims To Fight Racism And Prejudice

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Tel Aviv University has launched an exchange program in an effort to fight racism and prejudice. The program is currently being geared towards elementary school students.

Times of Israel reported that researchers at the Tel Aviv University have set up an exchange program for third- and fourth-grade Israeli and Palestinian students to create "sustainable tolerance while combating racism and prejudice." The Extended Class Exchange Program (ECEP) has held bimonthly meetings and classes to the elementary school students. It is unknown whether the program will be implemented on high school or college students.

The program allows students of both parties to have direct and structured contact with each other. It is a curriculum that emphasizes on mutual respect and acceptance of the "other." It also provides a skills training that teaches students how to empathize with others, making them more sensitive in understanding other people's thoughts, feelings, desires, motivations and intentions.

The ECEP is led by Dr. Rony Berger of the Stress, Crisis and Trauma Program at TAU's Bob Shapell School of Social Work and Dr. Hisham Abu-Raiya, also of the Shapell School. It was held in collaboration with the Arab-Jewish Community Center (AJCC) in Jaffa and the Tel Aviv Municipality as part of efforts to decrease the growing tensions from the continued escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We've taught Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian children to be compassionate and empathetic - not only toward their friends in the program, but also toward people outside the classroom," Berger said. "It's very hard to bring people together technically, logistically and emotionally. People don't want to interact with people they feel uncomfortable around. In this research, we targeted various skills such as perspective-taking, empathy and compassion that can be taught to promote sustainable tolerance."

Abu-Raiya noted that the effectiveness of the program was felt 15 months after it ended, according to The Jerusalem Post. "This highlights the 'hate-preventative' potential of the program to prevent stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination than often lead to hostilities between ethnic groups," he said.

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