Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday unveiled new directives they said would end discrimination against ultra-Orthodox Sephardic girls, many of whom are rejected from largely Ashkenazi institutions due to their ethnic background.
Dozens of Sephardic students, primarily those applying to the Beis Yaakov network of high schools, remain at home every year after being refused admission into schools, in an issue that has plagued the ultra-Orthodox community for years.
Critics charge the schools maintain non-official quotas of Sephardic students, stemming from endemic racism against those whose families originate in Arab or Muslim lands, at the hands of an Ashkenazi, or European, elite.
Many of the schools deny the allegations of discrimination while insisting they should be allowed to admit or reject students at their discretion. Countering claims of discrimination, some Ashkenazi schools point to the parallel Shas school system in place since 1984, arguing the Sephardic education framework is responsible for absorbing those students.
Sitting alongside Deri during the weekly Shas faction meeting, Bennett said the new regulations, effective immediately, would force ultra-Orthodox schools to begin the registration process earlier in the year. That directive would give the ministry and the students more time to find an alternate school or force the institution to accept them, he said. He also promised “transparency,” saying the schools would be obligated to explain why they rejected each student and an appeals panel would be set up in the ministry to oversee complaints by parents.
“No girl will be discriminated against due to ethnicity, period,” said Bennett. “This is a problem that shouldn’t have existed in the State of Israel,” he added.
Deri, whose Shas party is seen as the political home for many religious Sephardic Jews, said his initial proposal to force regional registration of all students was rejected due to internal coalition sparring.
But he lauded the compromise, saying “for us, the Shas faction, today is a holiday.”