Even today, six days after the start of the crisis surrounding the Ner Etzion school in Petah Tikva, dozens of students of Ethiopian origin do not know where they will be studying this year. It is difficult to imagine members of other, stronger social groups being in such a situation. For several years now Ner Etzion's entire student body has been of Ethiopian origin. The existence of this "Ethiopian ghetto" has served the other religious schools in Petah Tikva, which did not have to take on the challenge of admitting the immigrants. For a long time the Education Ministry also supported the arrangement.
The unequivocal demand by parents and activists in the Ethiopian community to close Ner Etzion, using the impressive argument of seeking genuine integration, led Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar to reverse his earlier decision: The school would be closed immediately, rather than gradually. The result was confusion, uncertainty and anger on the part of many parents, who still do not know where their children will be enrolled. The other schools in Petah Tikva, especially the religious ones, will have to admit the Ner Etzion students. Two years ago the city's private educational institutions refused to admit students of Ethiopian origin. Now, too, there are calls to limit the number of these students that are to be accepted, on myriad and sundry grounds such as their subpar educational level or "lack of an appropriate support infrastructure." Busing the students to other communities has also been suggested - another way of relieving the "pressure" on the local schools.
Contributing to the desire to avoid absorbing these students is the growing competition between the state-religious and the private schools; the latter receive generous state support but have fewer Ethiopian-immigrant students. The private schools admit only the better students, figures in the state-religious education system say.
The Education Ministry and the city of Petah Tikva must solve the Ner Etzion crisis together, immediately. Its students, who have been sentenced to remain at home until some school deigns to admit them, will carry the memory of this rejection as a formative experience of their attempt to be accepted into Israeli society.
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