Immanuel students Itzik Ben-Malki
Students from the Beit Yaakov religious school in Immanuel. Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki
Text size

The Education Ministry announced yesterday it will approve the opening of a private school in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel that will not be funded by the state.

The school is intended for Ashkenazi girls whose parents had refused to let the girls' Mizrahi peers study in the same classes in a Beit Yaakov school that was the center of a recent High Court of Justice petition.

The ministry told the court yesterday it would allow the Ashkenazi parents to open a new school that would receive no state funding, unlike similar schools run by ultra-Orthodox networks that receive 55 percent of their budget from the state.

In a ruling earlier this year, the High Court ordered the ultra-Orthodox network that runs the Beit Yaakov girls school in Immanuel to pay a fine of NIS 5,000 for every day it continued to violate an August 2009 court order to eliminate any vestige of ethnic discrimination at the school.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed in 2008 by Noar Kahalacha, an organization that combats discrimination against Mizrahim. The petition accused the school of contempt of court.

Yitzhak Weinberg, one of several Hasidic parents who went to prison for not sending his daughters to Beit Yaakov after the court ordered it to admit Mizrahi girls, said: "We are happy to have reached an agreement. The Education Ministry has recognized the need to educate our daughters more strictly. We hope this ends the affair. Of course, we didn't want to reach this situation, but we had no choice. Now we are happy."

He said the new school would open its doors on Sunday.

Seventy-four girls, mostly of Ashkenazi origin, had been studying in an adjacent unauthorized school since the court, along with the Education Ministry, called on the school to stop holding separate classes for Ashkenazi and Mizrahi students.

The Beit Yaakov school was split into two in 2007, with separate entrances, a separate playground and separate study hours for Ashkenazi and Mizrahi girls.

In August 2009 the court ruled that the school was discriminating against the girls on an ethnic basis and ordered its management to stop any form of discrimination. The Education Ministry was told to revoke the school's license.

The school and the Ashkenazi parents, who are Slonim Hasidim, say the problem is that the Mizrahi girls aren't religious enough, not that their families come from Middle Eastern countries.

The school flouted the ruling and continued the segregation. The petitioners, headed by social activist Yoav Laloum, went to court again, claiming contempt of court. In April of this year, the court fined the parents who violated the ruling, and some of them were taken into custody.

Now the Education Ministry has agreed to the Ashkenazi parents' request to open a new school for their daughters. The ministry said it had weighed "the parents' desire to educate their children in a Hasidic school."

Ministry officials said in the statement that the new school will also be prohibited from practicing ethnic discrimination.

The ministry said it agreed to the parents' request to educate their daughters in a school that is stricter than the existing Beit Yaakov institution.

The ministry also said that while the new school would not receive state funding during its first year of operation, the ministry would consider future funding requests.

Dr. Aviad Hacohen, the lawyer for the Mizrahi petitioners in the High Court case, commended the Education Ministry's emphasis on preventing any kind of discrimination, including ethnic discrimination, even in a private school. He welcomed the ministry's decision to supervise the new school.

Hachohen said the petitioners did not object to the Ashkenazi parents' opening a private school of their own that would not receive state funding. He did say, however, that those parents had stopped sending their daughters to the Beit Yaakov school, deciding instead to set up their own "ghetto."

It remains to be seen whether the new school will accept any student who fulfills its requirements, even if they are of Mizrahi origin.