New school year, but old discrimination remain

Shas city council member claims 30 Sephardi girls in Jerusalem kept out of Ashkenazi schools.

Back to school 370 (photo credit: Flash 90)
Back to school 370
(photo credit: Flash 90)
Activists have accused state education authorities of failing to implement anti-discrimination directives following reports that dozens of haredi Sephardi girls don’t have a place in school because of alleged discrimination.
Noar Kahalacha, an antidiscrimination group, 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 intake.
Shmuel Yitzhaki, a Shas party Jerusalem city council member claimed on Tuesday that 30 girls in Jerusalem had not received places in school places because of discriminatory policies, while a report in Yediot Aharonot on Wednesday cited Education Ministry figures from July showing that 393 students, mostly Sephardi, had not been accepted into Ashkenazi- majority schools in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit, Modi’in Illit and Elad.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai weighed into the debate on Wednesday, denouncing discrimination against Sephardi school girls and threatening to withhold funds from any regional council in which educational institutes apply discriminatory policies.
“Because of this intolerable situation where racism is raising its head and there are hundreds of girls that have still not begun the academic year because of their sin of not having been born the right color, I instructed the director of the Interior Ministry to immediately stop the transfer of money to local authorities which provide budgetary funds to institutions that behave in a racist manner and discriminate against Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Ethiopians, or any other community,” Yishai said in a statement issued to the press by his office.
“Racism must be eradicated and we will struggle against it with every means at our disposal.”
However, Noar Kahalacha director attorney Yoav Laloum criticized Yishai and Shas for failing to take action on the issue.
“It’s time that Shas first take action and then issue press statements,” Laloum told The Jerusalem Post, calling Yishai’s comments “less effective than proscribing pain killers for cancer.”
In December, Noar Kahalacha submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice requesting that an injunction be issued against the Education Ministry and its minister Gideon Sa’ar, and demanding that the respondents explain why they have not “fulfilled their legal obligation to use all means available to them to eliminate discriminatory practices against Mizrahi girls wishing to enroll in haredi schools.”
Laloum claimed Wednesday that “Shas’s empty declarations” were designed only to appease the High Court, which is expected to rule on the issue in late September.
In response to the claims of discrimination, the Education Ministry said all the girls had been placed but that some parents did not want to accept the allotted placements.
A spokeswoman said that the ministry is currently engaged in the process of reviewing the case of each and every girl to determine the reason why they were not placed in the school of their choice, and expects to complete the review by the beginning of next week.
She said the same process had been conducted last year, following reforms made to the inspection framework of the ministry, and that the ministry had summoned administrators from four schools at the beginning of the 2011 academic year to demand that they accept the placement of girls who were not enrolled in educational institutes.
“We do not intend to compromise on this issue,” the ministry spokeswoman added.
Laloum rejected these arguments, saying that the results this year were the same as last, proving that nothing has changed.
Yoni Mizrachi, a Noar Kahalacha activist in the haredi settlement of Modi’in Illit – also known as Kiryat Sefer – said Sephardi girls were rejected from the best schools in the city once they had filled the 30% quota, regardless of the student’s aptitude.
Laloum acknowledged that although there is no qualitative difference between the haredi girls’ schools, the perception in ultra-Orthodox society is that schools with a student body of 30% or less Sephardi pupils are the best, and that sending a daughter to less esteemed schools severely damages their social opportunities in haredi society.
“At the end of the day these schools are state funded yet the Ministry of Education is allowing them to pick and choose which students to accept and which not, in contravention of the law,” Laloum said.