Court rules: schools cannot discriminate against students

Any state-supported school which refuses to register children who belong to a given ethnic group is guilty of discrimination.

School children (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
School children
(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 funding.
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 discrimination.
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 in them.
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 schools.
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 education.
“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 defer.”
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 Law.
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.
“The 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 Procaccia.
“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 unacceptable.”
Procaccia formally rejected the Tebeka petition, which called for new measures to strip discriminatory schools of their public funding or close them down. She wrote that the current laws already allowed for such punitive measures.
On the same day that the High Court published its decision, Haaretz wrote that at one school in Petah Tikva, Ner Etzion, there is only one white child enrolled for the new school year. The other 290 children are Ethiopians.
The rest of the white parents in the district reportedly found other schools for their children.