Haredi school discrimination ruling postponed

Petition to High Court claims that ultra-Orthodox girls’ schools set unofficial quotas for Sephardi pupils.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311 (photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
The High Court of Justice decided on Tuesday to delay ruling on a petition by anti-discrimination group Noar Kahalacha until a clearer picture of alleged discrimination against Sephardi girls in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools was available.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who was presiding along with Justices Edna Arbel and Uzi Fogelman, recommended that a further hearing be held on July 1, after the school registration process for the 2012/2013 academic year was complete, to determine whether progress had been made in combating the phenomenon. She requested that both Noar Kahalacha and the Education Ministry provide updates at the upcoming hearing.
The petition, filed in December, claims that ultra-Orthodox girls’ schools set unofficial quotas for Sephardi pupils, requiring that they not exceed 30 percent of a school’s annual student body.
The petitioners requested an injunction against Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and representatives of the Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit city councils, requiring them to explain why they had not acted to eliminate these practices in the haredi education system.
Yisrael Tik, a representative of the Beitar Illit Municipality, denied that there was any discrimination in his town at all.
“Beitar Illit is comprised of 70% Ashkenazim and 30% Sephardim, so the number of students from the different communities just reflects that fact,” he said.
“True, it’s not 50-50, but there’s not much we can do about that.”
Fogelman agreed with the petitioners that discrimination existed, but said the Education Ministry had designed and implemented a framework to deal with it.
Beinisch concurred, pointing out that the ministry had established tools to deal with the issue. Although she believed the problem was “a widespread phenomenon,” when it came to the petition’s specific demands against the ministry, she said she “struggled to see the claim.”
“It seems that there are people [in the school registration process] who are not acting in an appropriate manner, but according to the system, the ministry can impose sanctions,” she said.
Attorney Yoav Laloum, director of Noar Kahalacha, argued that although the ministry had established guidelines for incidents of discrimination within the registration system, they were ineffective because the sanctions were rarely applied.
“This is not a problem that began yesterday,” Beinisch countered. “We’re talking about [something that has been] worked on widely. The question is, what more can be done at this stage?” In response to the petition’s claims, Shosh Shmueli, attorney for the state, argued that the registration form the Education Ministry required the schools to use showed no sign of discriminatory questions at all, and that a suitable appeals system had been established to deal with any student whose parents believed she had been unfairly denied a place in a specific school.
Arbel, however, questioned the efficacy of the ministry’s efforts, saying that despite this framework, discrimination still existed.
Following the hearing, Laloum said he was extremely happy with its outcome, and that despite the legal problems inherent in the petition, the court had agreed with the basis of his group’s argument. He added that he would be “sitting on the Education Ministry’s tail to ensure that the guidelines they have established will be enacted.”
He also called on anyone who encountered discrimination in the school registration process in the coming months to approach his organization, which he said would be available by e-mail, fax or telephone.