'We must all ask forgiveness from the Ethiopian community'

Sa'ar: Education more important to security than tanks or planes.

gideon saar 248.88 (photo credit: Ori Porat [file])
gideon saar 248.88
(photo credit: Ori Porat [file])
As more than two dozen Ethiopian students in Petah Tikva still awaited placement in one of the Dan-area municipality's schools, discrimination against Ethiopian students took center stage at the Knesset on Wednesday for the second time this week. Both during a special plenum session and an emergency session of the Committee for Children's Rights, MKs discussed the phenomenon of discrimination within state-funded schools, as well as possible solutions to the problem. "We all must ask for forgiveness from the Ethiopian community in Israel," said Committee Chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud). During the early afternoon plenum discussion, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar found himself in the unlikely position of receiving congratulations from opposition MK Haim Oron (Meretz) regarding his handling of the situation in Petah Tikva thus far. "The specific crisis in Petah Tikva is an annual ritual," said Sa'ar during his response to Oron's comments. "The same three schools in Petah Tikva did absorb the pupils; the problem now is with other schools. This is horrifying. I told the Supreme Court a few months ago that regarding schools that refuse to absorb students who have immigrated from Ethiopia, I will utilize the two tools that I have at my disposal against them: their budgets and their licenses." Sa'ar and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin engaged in a side conversation on the Knesset speaker's podium in which both expressed their opinions that the educational crisis in Israel was a strategic threat, and that - according to Sa'ar - "education in my eyes is more important to security than tanks or any one specific airplane." Hours earlier, organizations of Ethiopian immigrants, Education and Welfare Ministry representatives, and representatives from various local governments and the National Council for the Child all participated in the urgent committee hearing to address the situation in Petah Tikva. Members of the Ethiopian immigrant community testified that their own children had refused to go to school after they heard about the situation in Petah Tikva, where schools are still facing off against each other and the Education Ministry in order to absorb as few Ethiopian children as possible. Kassahoun Wanda of the "North America for Ethiopian Jews" organization said that the situation was not limited to Petah Tikva, but that similar and even more serious cases of discrimination could be found throughout the country. Wanda said that at the Yeshurun School in Rishon Lezion, 75% of the students are of Ethiopian origin and at the Rashbi School in Be'er Ya'akov, 100% of the students are Ethiopian. Danon told The Jerusalem Post that initial testimony indicated that in the case of the Yeshurun School, the Ethiopian students were bused in from other school districts in the city to attend. "The committee sees discrimination on the basis of skin color as an ethical crime that must be combated, and recognizes that the problem of absorbing Ethiopian students at educational institutions is a system-wide problem that exists throughout the country," Danon concluded. Danon said that, in light of the different data presented by municipalities, the Education Ministry and immigrants' advocacy groups, the committee would commission a study to be carried out by the Knesset's own research department to better understand the problem as well as possible solutions.