Education Minister Shai Piron spoke out strongly against Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul on Wednesday for forcibly partitioning a school in the city in an attempt to provide a separate, haredi girls school with classroom space.
The ministry issued a closure order against the new wing of the girls school, Mishkenot Daat, on Tuesday night that was opened in the secular Safot VeTarbuyot school in the Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef neighborhood.
Because of the order, the ground floor of Safot VeTarbuyot which was separated off for Mishkenot Daat was not used on Wednesday.
The ministry also appealed to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, which banned Mishkenot Daat from using the Safot VeTarbuyot premises until a hearing scheduled for Thursday morning.
The pupils of Mishkenot Daat began Wednesday at the main premises of their school, but then spent several hours outside Safot VeTarbuyot, seemingly as part of a protest during which Abutbul addressed them in front of news cameras.
The construction work the Beit Shemesh municipal authority carried out earlier this week separated the two floors of the Safot VeTarbuyot school and a 2.5-meter high wall was erected in the school yard causing outrage among parents of pupils at the school, teachers and the broader, non-haredi community in the city.
“The education system will not tolerate this type of thuggish behavior, conducted without discussion or coordination, for educational solutions,” Piron said on Wednesday.
“Every Israeli child has the right to an [appropriate] educational framework, but this right cannot be achieved by unilateral action which tramples the law and morality.
“They crept into a school in the dead of night, built a wall and removed books and [educational] materials from the classrooms. It’s unthinkable that such things happen in the State of Israel, and certainly not in the educational system that teaches pupils the values of fairness, integrity and obedience to the law,” Piron said, adding that the ministry would not compromise on “preserving the rule of law.”
Piron told Army Radio that he had spoken with Abutbul before the construction was undertaken and offered him the use of four mobile prefabricated caravilla classrooms for Mishkenot Daat as a temporary solution.
Abutbul said in response that the solution Piron offered was not appropriate and that “when there are empty classrooms [in the city] I have to take care of all children in Beit Shemesh.”
According to the Beit Shemesh municipal council, Safot VeTarbuyot has 144 pupils but has classroom space for 500.
Abutbul also claimed during the interview that it was the school board of Safot VeTarbuyot that requested a wall be built in the schoolyard and who did not want any connection to the haredi school.
Tatiana Illouz Shipova, the president of the Safot VeTarbuyot school board, denied that they had ever made such a request.
On Wednesday morning, the girls from Mishkenot Daat were brought to an area just outside Safot VeTarbuyot and addressed there by Abutbul.
“I know it’s not easy for you to be in the sun, it’s not easy for you to be in this situation.
I’m very sorry about it, we found a solution with empty classrooms that are here in this huge school, we asked to take a small part of it so you can also study with a desk and table,” Abutbul told them.
“Unfortunately, the education minister did like this solution.
He wanted another solution, but we won’t allow it, and I will take care of you, just as I take care of every child in Beit Shemesh... We do not discriminate between blood.”
Elyasaf Varman, a member of the municipal council for Bayit Yehudi, condemned what he called the exploitation of children for political purposes.
“They brought them out and had them stand in the sun and used them as cover for the failure to adequately plan for the construction of public buildings in the city,” said Varman.
“It’s not right to use children in this manner, it’s not moral or ethical.”