emmanuel kids 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The recent High Court ruling against parents of students in the Israeli town of
Emmanuel and the ensuing massive haredi demonstration on the parents’ behalf
present an opportunity to either jump to conclusions or objectively evaluate the
Several Sephardi parents – Israelis of North African and
Middle-Eastern backgrounds – in the town brought a lawsuit aimed at preventing
other parents of students who had been studying in the local Beit Yaakov girls’
school from maintaining a new school the latter group had established. The court
ruled that the new school was born of illegal ethnic discrimination and, later,
that the “new school,” the parents’ subsequent second choice – to send their
daughters to a school in another city – was also forbidden. The court fined
those parents for each day they refused to comply with its order to return their
children to the Emmanuel Beit Yaakov school, threatened them with prison and
then made good on the threat. On June 17, the parents, wearing their Shabbat
clothes, were held aloft and escorted to the prison by a peaceful crowd of tens
of thousands, singing and dancing, in a demonstration of support for the
WHAT GIVES here? Well there are two versions.
First, the one presented by most media: That racial prejudice lay at the
the parents’ desire for a separate school for their children and their
to abide by the court ruling. The large number of supporters who turned
their behalf reflected a general haredi Ashkenazi disdain for the
between Ashkenazim and Sephardim.
Version two: The jailed parents sought
only to preserve the religious standards the Emmanuel school had
Changing demographics over the years in Emmanuel brought an
influx of families with less stringent standards of Jewish observance,
insularity (including things like use of the internet and personal
which are shunned by many haredim for religious reasons) than the
residents of the town. Some of the longtime residents with schoolage
saw a need for two different educational institutions to service
girls. That most of the new families happened to be of Sephardi heritage
no role at all in that decision.
The first version was endorsed by the
High Court, which pronounced that the new school evidenced prejudice and
the parents who had founded it to return their children to the Emmanuel
Those parents, however, insisted, and still insist, that the court
wrong, that their choice was a matter of religious conscience. They
be coerced to send their children to a school of the court’s choice and
went to jail for their civil disobedience.
The larger haredi community,
wary of the High Court in the best of circumstances and seeing it as
ignored clear facts in this case, rallied to the parents’ side.
VERSION reflects the truth? There is no doubt that discrimination
Sephardim exists in Israeli society, and that it is pernicious and must
fought wherever it appears. The question about the Emmanuel issue,
whether such discrimination – or, rather, parents’ concerns for the
their children’s educations – motivated the establishment of the new
Several simple facts, although oddly absent from most news
reports, seem to point in one direction: More than a quarter of the
had been enrolled in the new school were… Sephardi. And there were
girls who remained in the original Beit Yaakov school too. What is more,
applicant to the new school was rejected.
Any girl willing to abide by
the school’s standards was welcomed, regardless of her ethnic
“segregation,” it seems, consisted of nothing more than two schools
different sets of religious standards.
The High Court emperor’s nakedness
may have been most succinctly voiced by one of the parents who went to
he was held aloft by the crowd and a reporter’s microphone put before
“Are you a Sephardi?” asked the off-camera voice, its owner having
apparently noticed the man’s complexion.
“Yes,” he replied, “A
Then, with a wry smile at the absurdity of it all, he added “A
Yemenite is being taken in [to prison] for racism.Ata mevin
understand]?” And yet the headlines blared on, using charged phrases
“ethnic prejudice” and “segregation,” and portraying the jailed parents
their supporters as seeking to discriminate against Sephardim, invoking,
the court, American blacks’ struggle for civil rights in the 1950s.
got it perfectly backward.
The haredi parents and marchers were
championing their rights as parents to educate their children as they
They, if anyone, are the Martin Luther Kings here.
The court, sad to say,
assumed the Bull Connor role.The writer is the director of public
affairs for Agudath Israel of America. The above essay is offered
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.