Sephardi haredim complain to court about ‘ghettos’

High Court encourages petitioners against discrimination, limited quotas in schools to pursue case before order slated.

Ponevezh Yeshiva 521 (photo credit: Philippe Bellaiche)
Ponevezh Yeshiva 521
(photo credit: Philippe Bellaiche)
The High Court of Justice on Thursday encouraged Sephardi haredi petitioners complaining of discriminatory “ghettos” and quotas in schools across the country to continue pursuing their case and collecting evidence, while apologetically expressing an inability to immediately issue a more concrete order.
The petition, targeting discrimination as a national phenomenon, focuses on the Education Ministry’s alleged failure to crack down on discrimination, but also specifically names the municipalities of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit and Betar Illit as hot spots of discrimination.
Specifically, the petitioners said that some Ashkenazi haredi schools have a clear policy to keep Sephardi student numbers under 30 percent, while at the same time actively pushing Sephardim into “ghettos” with schools where the population is 100 percent Sephardi.
Arguing on behalf of the petitioners, attorney Aviad Hacohen said that the top and most highly regarded Ashkenazi haredi schools were imposing quotas on the number of Sephardi students they would take in order to keep their numbers down and to discourage Sephardim from applying.
He added that despite an earlier court order on January 10, 2012, to the Education Ministry to crack down on discrimination and produce transparent data on the issue for the court to evaluate and critique, the discrimination this school year was just as bad as last year.
Hacohen said that the state had provided general information that avoided the real issues, proving again that the state is just trying to do the minimum necessary to cover its tracks but is not really interested in solving the issue proactively.
Responding, the state implicitly admitted that there is discrimination in the schools, but it qualified the admission, stating that it was not systematic and had to be handled on a case by case basis, not with a broad-based petition like the one before the court.
Next, the state argued that it cannot produce the specific information that the petitioners were demanding, as it is often impossible to fully and accurately determine who is Sephardi and who is not.
Trying to support this argument, the state said that one cannot just look at a list of student names, as many students have modern names that do not reveal their ethnicity, and there are also complex cases, such as where the parents of a child are a “mixed” Ashkenazi- Sephardi couple.
Rather, the state said it needed the petitioners to identify problem cases for it on a case-by-case basis.
Despite its sympathy for the petitioners’ position, the court decided that the burden remained on the petitioners to bring more specific and concrete examples of the discrimination, so that the court could issue concrete orders to address the problem.
The court encouraged the petitioners to continue with the petition and cautioned the state and the municipalities that they needed to continue to follow up on the issue.