Ethiopian-Israeli parents petition against Haredi schools’ rejection of children

Ethiopian-Israeli parents petition against Haredi schools’ rejection of children

Petition charges that stonewalling by 4 Jerusalem Talmud Torahs is part of pattern of discriminatory behavior against the community

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Ethiopian-Israelis and supporters protest police violence and discrimination in Tel Aviv, July 8, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ethiopian-Israelis and supporters protest police violence and discrimination in Tel Aviv, July 8, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A group of Ethiopian-Israeli parents has petitioned a court against the refusal of four ultra-Orthodox schools in Jerusalem to register their children for the coming school year.

One of the children has been offered a place in a school far from his home. The other three are without places. The Haredi school year starts in mid-August.

The administrative petition was filed in the Jerusalem District Court on Monday by lawyer Dan Largman against the four Talmud Torah schools, the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality, Kan public radio reported Wednesday.

The petition demands an interim order that will allow the four children (three from one family and one from another) to start the school year in their chosen schools.

In previous years, the same four — currently aged three to six — have had to travel long distances for their education, with their families having to shoulder the transportation costs. One of the children spent an extra year in kindergarten because he was not accepted to one of the four schools, despite a professional opinion that he was ready to move up a year.

The petition was submitted after the parents appealed to the Jerusalem Municipality and the Education Ministry. According to the petition, officials from both bodies visited the schools in question and invited the parents and children to come, but did not invite them into the talks with senior school staff.

Largman said that the petition charged not only discrimination against the families but an almost complete absence of Ethiopian-Israeli children in the institutions, indicating a pattern of behavior.

Illustrative: A Haredi school in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, August 27, 2014 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Largman said the mothers had registered their children in January. They were rejected, with some of the schools not providing a reason. Last week, he received a letter from the municipality saying that the mothers had not registered in time and had not filled in the forms properly. “If these claims had been made earlier we would have been able to appeal,” he said.

One of the parents, who asked not to be identified by his real name, said that the ultra-Orthodox community was “as hard as stone. It’s hard to describe the difficulties that we face on a daily basis. They don’t look at us like human beings. We deserve to be treated like everyone else.”

The father said that he had visited the municipality and spoken to a ministry inspector at the beginning of the last school year and that they had understood that it was not appropriate to leave his child for an additional year in kindergarten.

The schools would say that the classes were full and that they would telephone if a place became available, the father said, or that it was not the right to time to discuss the issue.

In response, the Education Ministry said it was opposed to discrimination of any kind and was acting in the interests of the four children to ensure that the issue was properly dealt with. The municipality said it would submit its response to the court.

One of the Talmud Torah schools said its gates were open to all children whose parents registered at the right time and in the right way and that it had interviewed tens of Ethiopian-Israeli children this year. Another said it was unaware of the petition, a third said it preferred not to respond and the fourth said a response was not yet ready.

Ultra-Orthodox schools have previously faced accusations of discriminating against Sephardi Jews and members of other minorities. A 2009 High Court ruling forced a seminary school for girls in the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Emmanuel to stop separating Ashkenazi and Sephardi pupils. The ruling was panned by many Haredi officials as an illegitimate intervention in the community’s internal affairs.

Ethiopian-Israelis this month held days of nationwide protests after a police officer killed teenager Solomon Tekah, with members of the community saying it was emblematic of the racism they face in society on a daily basis and ongoing discriminatory treatment at the hands of the police.

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