Yaakov Laloum
Yaakov Laloum Photo by Emil Salman
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Yoav Laloum, who petitioned the High Court of Justice against ethnic segregation at the Beit Yaakov girls school in Immanuel, told a Jerusalem rabbinical court yesterday that he will abide by the rabbinical court's arbitration on the dispute. But sources on both sides of the case said the arbitration proceeding was unlikely to settle the matter.

Laloum was sued in the rabbinical court by a group of Slonim Hasidim, the dominant sect among the parents who oppose integrating the school.

Laloum, who is chairman of the Noar Kahalacha organization, also promised to withdraw his High Court petition. But he conditioned the withdrawal on a commitment by the Slonim Hasidim to integrate the school's Ashkenazi and Sephardi educational tracks for the upcoming school year, as the High Court ordered.

The school, and the Ashkenazi parents, contend that the separate tracks are not designed to segregate Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls based on their ethnicity. However, they say, some of the Sephardi girls are excluded from the so-called Hasidic track because their families are insufficiently strict in their religious observance.

The High Court, however, rejected this argument, and last week, it ordered the parents of girls in the Hasidic track, who refused to integrate the classes as ordered, jailed for contempt of court. Their incarceration sparked huge ultra-Orthodox demonstrations.

Even if Laloum agrees to withdraw his petition, the High Court is not required to rescind its incarceration orders. And since the court ruled on the substance of the case about a year ago, that ruling will stand regardless of Laloum's future legal moves.

At a hearing last week, the High Court also made it clear that any request by the parents of Hasidic track students to transfer their children to another school next year would require Education Ministry approval.

Haaretz has learned that one of the three judges on the arbitration panel appointed by the rabbinical court is Mordechai Eichler, who is not only a Slonim Hasid, but the father of Yeshayahu Eichler, one of the Immanuel parents who has been jailed. Yet Laloum did not seek to have him disqualified.

Following Laloum's announcement that he would agree to arbitration, the rabbinical court issued two "restraining orders." One bars the Slonim Hasidim, which is the other party to the arbitration, from attacking Lalum or his supporters - not only through physical violence, but also in speech or writing. The other appears to back Lalum's position: It effectively adopts, at least temporarily, the High Court's ruling that the two academic tracks should be combined as of the beginning of the next school year. However, this order will be in force only "unless and until the rabbinical court decides otherwise," meaning that today's hearing could result in a different decision.

Meanwhile, the High Court of Justice decided yesterday that a hearing on whether the mothers who violated the court's integration order should join the fathers in jail will take place only tomorrow. Until then, they will not be detained.

Also yesterday, Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism ) erected a protest tent outside the entrance to the Ma'asiyahu Prison, where the fathers are being held. The number of demonstrators at the tent yesterday afternoon was relatively small, but organizers said that UTJ's Degel Hatorah faction will convene there today, and religious classes may also be held at the site. People close to Porush said the activities there are being funded by private donors, and not by the Education Ministry.

In response to criticism of his actions, Porush said he had not prevented the High Court's order from being carried out, but "I am protesting the fact that the parents are sitting in jail. That is a legitimate protest."

Porush added that he had discussed his actions with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud ), who opposed them.

Porush said that efforts would be made over the summer to start a new school in Immanuel for children whose parents refuse to send the children to an integrated Beit Yaakov.

MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (UTJ ) also visited the protest tent yesterday. "The court has a lot of work to do [on cases involving] murderers, thieves, and other things that occur in the ailing secular society," he said. "They don't have to burden themselves with this [case], too."