(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On the eve of the opening of the new school year, the High Court of Justice
handed down a ruling declaring that any state-supported school which refuses to
register children because they belong to a given ethnic group is guilty of
discrimination and may lose their permit as well as some or all of their public
The ruling was not aimed at any current or specific cases of
children being refused admission to a given school, but was meant to establish a
principle to be applied in all cases of educational
However, it was born out of a petition filed two years
ago by the Tebeka organization, established to fight discrimination against
Ethiopian Jews who have immigrated to or were born in Israel.
At the time
the petition was filed, several private schools belonging to the national
religious stream refused to register 24 Ethiopian children who applied to study
The schools were formally classified as unofficial but
recognized schools.This status gave the parents a large degree of freedom in
determining the curriculum and standards of the school.
On the other
hand, the state provided only 65-75 percent of the annual funding, whereas it
provides 100% of the funding for official statesecular and state-religious
The schools refused to accept the children on the grounds that
their Jewishness was in doubt according to some interpretations, their level of
religious observance was not high, the schools lacked the money to absorb the
Ethiopian students and social problems would arise by trying to merge them with
the other students.
Justice Ayala Procaccia, who wrote the main decision,
said that although the law granted parents the right to educate their children
according to their own values and principle, there was no question that this
right was subordinate to the constitutional right of each child to equality of
“The supremacy of the right to equality in education over the
right to individual autonomy in education stems from the power it is infused
with as part of the dignity of man,” wrote Procaccia.
“The right to a
special education in accordance with personal autonomy is also recognized as an
important right, but in a confrontation with the value of equality, it must
Procaccia added that the right to equality of education applies
to all the categories of schools including the unofficial but recognized schools
and the schools that are exempted from certain provisions of the State Education
The justice added that when it came to the issue of equality in
education, there was almost never a justification for distinguishing between one
student and another.
The court said it agreed to hear the petition, even
though the problems of all 24 Ethiopian children had already been solved because
it understood that the problems of discrimination in the Petah Tikva school
system arose every year and that they did not occur only in that city but
throughout the country.
It did, however, base its conclusions regarding
discrimination on what had happened to those particular children.
facts as presented to us clearly point to a deep violation of the right to
equality of education on the part of recognized but unofficial schools,” wrote
“The reasons given for refusing to register them in no way
comply with the basic right of equality in education and constitute
discrimination based on origins and ethnic identity. This is unacceptable
discrimination which cannot be allowed to exist in state education, based on the
foundation of equal opportunity for every child. It delivers an insulting and
humiliating message of social inferiority which is
Procaccia formally rejected the Tebeka petition, which
called for new measures to strip discriminatory schools of their public
or close them down. She wrote that the current laws already allowed for
On the same day that the High Court published its
decision, Haaretz wrote that at one school in Petah Tikva, Ner Etzion,
only one white child enrolled for the new school year. The other 290
The rest of the white parents in the district reportedly
found other schools for their children.