Dueling claims of racism, discrimination after kindergarten boycotted
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Dueling claims of racism, discrimination after kindergarten boycotted

Government says children kept home as parents protested enrollment of Ethiopians, but city and Chabad group says refusal to open religious preschool sparked outcry

Ethiopian students at the Bereshit school in Jerusalem  in 2012. Not suspects. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
Ethiopian students at the Bereshit school in Jerusalem in 2012. Not suspects. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

The mayor of a central Israeli city denied government claims Tuesday that parents refused to send their children to a religious kindergarten due to an increased enrollment of Ethiopian children.

The Education Ministry claimed 34 children did not come to the religious pre-school in Kfar Yona after learning that 17 Ethiopian-Israeli children were to join the childcare center.

The Hasidic Chabad movement, with which the kindergarten is affiliated, and the mayor of Kfar Yona insisted, however, that parents did not send their children because of the government’s refusal to allow the pre-school to open.

Kfar Yona Mayor Efraim Derei called the ministry’s claims a “gross lie” and said the government was using allegations of racism in order to “justify” not having given permission for the kindergarten to operate as part of the public school system, according to Chabad-affiliated site Shturem.

“Chabad kindergartens accept every child that applies to them, no matter color or ethnic background,” Derei added.

“The parents’ fight is for the children to study in a Chabad kindergarten and not a regular religious public kindergarten, and the Education Department is refusing to give the kindergarten permission [to operate]. The parents do not have a problem with there being Ethiopian children, and indeed, in the Chabad kindergarten there are Ethiopians,” said Chabad according to Channel 10.

Parents of 32 children gathered Tuesday morning in front of the Education Ministry in Tel Aviv, to protest the government’s failure to allow the kindergarten to open, Shturem reported

The government, however, said it was planning to open the kindergarten.

Education Ministry director Michal Cohen attends a Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting at the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem on August 24, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Education Ministry director Michal Cohen attends an Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting at the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem on August 24, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The protest concerned “a handful of parents who discovered that there are [Ethiopian] children that need to arrive, and it does not seem [good] to them, but the kindergarten will open,” said Education Department director Michal Cohen, according to Hebrew-language news site Ynet.

Denouncing the parents’ alleged refusal to send their children to the kindergarten, Cohen added that “the children are children of Israel and no one is allowed to influence the [ethnic] make up of the kindergarten.”

The issue of Ethiopian immigrants’ integration into Israeli society recently came to a head in a series of protests alleging systematic discrimination against the community. In response, the government agreed to create a committee to examine the complaints and work to correct them.

More than 2 million children and teenagers — 2,194,931, to be precise — headed out to kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools Tuesday morning, as the 2015-16 school year began, the Education Ministry said.

Jonathan Beck contributed to this report.

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