Ashkenazim-only school 'illegal'

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 18, 2010
School segregation has been challenged in court several times

School segregation has been challenged in court several times

The Israeli Education Ministry has stepped up its campaign against schools that segregate Ashkenazi and Sephardi pupils.

This week, the ministry ordered the closure of a school that had been set up three months ago to cater for 74 Ashkenazi girls in the strictly Orthodox town of Emanuel in the West Bank.

Their parents had taken them out of the local Beit Yaakov girls' school after the Supreme Court ruled that the separate classes in the school for Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls were illegal.

The issue of segregation in the strictly Orthodox education stream, where many schools operate a quota of Sephardi pupils or keep them in separate classes, has been the subject of a number of Supreme Court petitions, and the current Education Minister, Gidon Sa'ar, has taken it upon himself to enforce the court's rulings.

Two weeks ago, the ministry filed a complaint with the police against the parents of the 74 girls, claiming that they were acting in breach of the Compulsory Education Law by sending their daughters to an unauthorised school.

The ministry acted after the Emanuel local council refused to do so itself.

Many strictly-Orthodox parents, especially those belonging to Chasidic groups, want their children to be educated only among children of similar backgrounds.

The main Charedi school network, Chinuch Atzmai, has in some places catered for these parents by having within the schools a "Chasidic stream" and a "general stream".

De facto this means segregation between Ashkenazi and Sephardi pupils.

In towns such as Emanuel, where the local councils which are responsible for implementing the education laws are controlled by Charedi politicians, they have refused to work with the Education Ministry, claiming that the schools are independent, despite the fact that they receive 60 per cent of their funding from the state.

The ministry is now exploring ways in which it can penalise the schools and reduce their funding.

Another campaign against segregation which the ministry has been fighting is against religious schools that refuse to accept Ethiopian immigrants.

These schools have claimed that since the Ethiopians usually live in the same areas, they are forced to accept a high proportion of children without any real religious background or knowledge.

This week, the Beer Sheva Magistrates Court ruled that the ministry and the local council of Arad would pay five Ethiopian families NIS 280,000 (£50,000) in compensation for their children being moved from a religious kindergarten to a secular one against their will.

Last updated: 4:40pm, March 18 2010