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Comment: Media treats Charedim the way the world treats Israel

    From the beginning, the dispute over the two-track system - one Chasidic and one general - in the Beit Yaakov school in Emanuel, an impoverished West Bank settlement, has been falsely portrayed as a case of ethnic discrimination against Sephardim, or Jews of Middle Eastern descent.

    It would not be surprising if there were few Sephardi girls in the Chasidic track - there were few Sephardim in the areas of Eastern Europe from where Chasidim hail. In fact, more than a quarter of the girls in the Chasidic track are of Sephardi origin.

    Advocate Mordechai Bas, who was appointed by the Education Ministry to evaluate the school, found that while the split of the school was administratively improper, "it was not done with the intention of discriminating against students because of their ethnic background.

    "No parent who wanted or wants to register their daughters in the new school, and who was or is prepared to meet the [stricter religious] standards for doing so, has been refused."

    The Supreme Court did not question his findings. Rather, Justice Edmond Levy summarily concluded that the under-representation of Sephardim in the Chasidic track demonstrates ipso facto discriminatory intent. By that standard, the Israeli Supreme Court is the most discriminatory institution in Israel.

    Justice Levy is the only one of the 14 permanent members of the Court to be of Sephardi origin, a consistent pattern since 1948. Former Court President Aharon Barak once told journalists it would be impossible to increase Sephardi representation on the Court without diluting its quality. The remark was largely ignored by the media.

    After the Court, the most overwhelmingly Ashkenazi institution in Israel is broadcast journalism. Yet the media has been quick to hurl the racism label at the Chasidim of Emanuel. Interviewers simply ignored Chasidic parents when they cited the significant number of Sephardim in the Chasidic track, and returned, without pause, to badgering them about why they discriminated against Sephardim.

    Last Friday's front-page headline in the Jerusalem Post described the Chasidic track in Emmanuel as a "segregated" school - a characterisation about as accurate as the frequent characterisation of Israel as an "apartheid state". Indeed there are numerous parallels between the recent media treatment of Charedim and the world media's treatment of Israel - something perhaps worth pondering.

    In sentencing parents of children in the former Chasidic track to jail for bussing their children to a school more in keeping with their religious standards in Bnei Brak, the Supreme Court engaged in a power struggle it cannot win. Striking at the core of Charedi life, the right of parents to transmit the Torah to their children according to their traditions - a right the Court acknowledges - has only succeeded in unifying the often fractious Charedi community and reinforcing the conservative elements most resistant to engagement with the outside world.

    In two weeks, the school year ends and the jailed parents will be released. The Supreme Court has already indicated that they can form their own independent school next year or bus their children to Bnei Brak. Soon nothing will remain of the two-year legal battle besides the bitter taste of completely unnecessary confrontation.

    Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post

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