Aryeh Deri, who was recently reinstated to Shas' leadership, promised to shut down Ashkenazi girls schools that discriminate against Sephardi students, in launching what he said would be a "world war" against ethnic discrimination.

"I will do everything to shut down [discriminating] girls high schools. I will see to it that elementary schools will serve as regional schools up to the 12th grade. I know I'm starting a world war here," Deri said in a joint radio interview with ministers Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias on Shas' station Kol Barama on Friday. Deri said Asheknazi yeshiva heads boast that 10 percent of their students are Sephardi. "I fume with rage. Ten percent?...What's the difference? Their skin color? Shame on them," he said.

Deri said the late ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, head of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, had authorized him to withhold funds from Ashkenazi schools that discriminate against Sephardi students.

Elyashiv's former assistant and Deri's confidant Haim Cohen yesterday joined Deri in objecting to stressing Shas' treatment of African refugees and migrant workers in the party's election campaign. "We Sephardis, who are persecuted for our skin color, cannot persecute others. It's a moral issue," he said.

Deri said "one of the main matters that drove me back to public life is the terrible suffering of our families."

He said he receives complaints from families whose men have "studied in Ashkenazi yeshivas for two generations in Hebron and Ponevezh [in Bnei Brak], whose children are three years old and already they're subjected to a quota of Sephardis and Ashkenazis. We'll fight this to the end," he said.

Deri noted that when he was Shas chairman he failed to establish Sephardi girls schools. Since then all Shas' leaders, including Deri himself, Yishai and Atias, have been sending their daughters to Ashkenazi schools.

When Sephardi girls were discriminated in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, Shas toed the line of the Ashkenazi rabbis, and denounced activist and parent Yoav Laloum who had sued the school over the issue.

Laloum, head of the NGO Noar Kahalacha, said, "It's good to see that Shas finally understood the critical problem in the ultra-Orthodox community is the ethnic discrimination in schools. I hope Deri makes Shas change its ways too, and cooperates with us in the struggle against discrimination instead of throwing spanners in the revolution's wheels."

Former Shas MK Haim Amsalem, who heads the newly formed Am Shalem party, last week questioned Deri's Sephardi agenda. "They're Sephardi? They're Sephardo-Ashkenazi. Deri should first learn to speak with the right pronunciation...If they're Sephardi, I'm Polish. What's Sephardi about them? Their studies? Their rulings? Their world view?" said Amsalem, who was expelled from Shas in 2010 when he criticized it sharply.