Court to Weigh Sanctioning Parents for School's Segregation

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox parents from the West Bank settlement of Immanuel are expected to attend a High Court of Justice hearing today that will consider sanctioning them personally for noncompliance with an earlier ruling, which ordered the town's Beit Yaakov school to stop running separate classes for Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls.

Rather than comply with this ruling, Ashkenazi parents set up a separate, privately-run educational program next to the school.

The parents, with the backing of the Ashkenazi Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) leadership, are challenging the court's authority to intervene in policies at the Beit Yaakov school, which is part of the independently run but state-funded Hinuch Atzma'i ("Independent Education") school system. The parents and school administrators contend that the separate classes are due not to the students' different ethnic backgrounds, but to their different educational needs, which primarily stem from their different levels of religious observance.

Three weeks ago, the High Court ordered the Hinuch Atzma'i network to pay a NIS 5,000 fine for every day that it continues refusing to integrate the school.

At the same time, it scheduled today's exceptional hearing, to which about 130 parents and teachers from the so-called "Hasidic" Ashkenazi track have been summoned to explain why they should not also be ruled in contempt of the court's earlier ruling.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Noar Kahalacha nonprofit organization, which filed the initial High Court petition, will use the hearing to seek continued sanctions for failure to comply with the integration order.

Avraham Luria, whose wife is one of the teachers who will be attending today's hearing, insisted that the separation of the students is not based on ethnic origin. The Hasidic track is simply for girls from more rigorously observant families, he said - and in fact, of the 74 students in this track, 25 are Sephardi, he added. This track is now entirely funded from private contributions, he said.

In advance of today's hearing, elements of the ultra-Orthodox community have made an effort, mainly through the Haredi press, to cast this as a case that must be fought in order to preserve the community's educational values. Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, met with Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch on the issue, and in press interviews, he threatened to organize a rally against the High Court.

The rabbinic leader of the Slonim Hasidim, to which most of the Ashkenazi families in Immanuel's separate Hasidic track belong, said he personally would agree to sit in jail rather than abide by the High Court ruling. In an unusual step, the rabbi said he was considering attending today's hearing, and would also allow his followers to be interviewed by the non-Haredi press.