A Sephardi Jewry advocacy group filed a complaint in the Education Ministry against what it called the "discriminatory policy" of a Beit Ya'acov girls' school in Emmanuel, a haredi settlement.
The school - run by Ashkenazi haredi residents of Emmanuel, many of whom are hassidic - began this school year separating students, essentially creating two different schools under one roof.
The "new" school that was created was made up of a predominantly Ashkenazi student body while the "old" school had a Sephardi majority.
Attorneys Yeshayahu Avraham and Dr. Aviad Hacohen, who represent No'ar Kehalacha (Proper Youth Integration), an organization that fights for equality for Sephardi students in the haredi school system, demanded that Education Minister Yuli Tamir and ministry director-general Shlomit Amichai intervene on behalf of the Sephardi students.
Avraham and Hacohen said that Tamir and Amichai had gone on record during a TV news interview promising to put an end to the "segregation."
The attorneys argued that, beginning this year, the school had separated Sephardi and Ashkenazi students after years of the two populations studying together.
The attorneys said the school could be in violation of the law, since the Education Ministry - which transfers state funds to the school - had not been notified of the separation.
Elyashiv Aharon, deputy chairman of the United Council of Sephardi Communities in Emmanuel, said that while the town's Sephardi residents would prefer that their children study with the Ashkenazi pupils, they were not opposed in principle to segregation.
"But the way it was done was brutal," said Aharon. "They gave Sephardi girls the impression that they were second-rate human beings. Girls came home from school crying. It was a trauma that is liable to have a lasting impact on those girls' lives."
However, Emmanuel Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Barlev said the school did not segregate according to the pupils' ethnicity, but rather by academic criteria.
"Girls from stronger, more educated and proactive households we sent to the new school, which is predominantly hassidic, while girls with weaker backgrounds were kept in the older school," he said.
Barlev said that 30 percent of the girls studying in the new school were from Sephardi families and that in some grades, the percentage was even higher.
"My daughter's sixth-grade class is at least 50% Sephardi," said Barlev.
Barlev also said that many Sephardi rabbis supported the creation of the new school, including Rabbi Shimon Bahadani, a member of Shas's Council of Torah Sages.
Barlev said the Emmanuel population, 60% of which is comprised of Sephardi families, has been changing in recent years.
"Emmanuel went through a long period of decline. Housing prices fell. Poor families, attracted more by the cheap housing than by the haredi lifestyle in the city, began coming. These families were passive and less religious.
"However, in recent years, more young families - [many] Ashkenazi, but also many Sephardim - began coming to the settlement. These people are on a higher socioeducational level. They demand higher educational standards," he said.
The Education Ministry said in response that it opposed segregation based on ethnicity.
The ministry directed the Emmanuel Beit Ya'acov school to rectify the issue by January 6. At that time, the ministry plans to visit the school to make sure the institution is not discriminating against any sector of the population.
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