Discrimination and Contempt

No excuse - whether based on halakha, tradition or anything else - can justify the humiliation and crass exclusion of individuals, all the more so of young girls.

The affair surrounding discrimination against Mizrahi students at the Beit Yaakov girls' school in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel crossed yet another threshold this week. As the Noar Kahalakha nonprofit organization again petitioned the High Court (this time over Ashkenazi students' contempt of court in refusing to attend class following the ruling requiring the school's integration), Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi of Shas said that "there is a Sephardi school - there is no longer discrimination."

With a wink from the head of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community, the Shas leadership added insult to injury by denying discrimination and aiding in the blatant violation of the High Court's ruling in August. This ruling said the school must halt segregation, which the court found to be a serious breach of the law.

Since the filing of the first petition on the matter, the school in Immanuel has turned into a test case. The school's contemptible practices include segregation between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi students (Jews of European and Middle Eastern origin, respectively), demanding different dress codes, dividing the school into two sections and even requiring that each group enter through its own door.

The High Court upheld the unique character of the ultra-Orthodox education system, which justifies division of students based on religious - though not ethnic - criteria, but rightly noted that "the right to community education is not absolute, particularly when it comes into conflict with the right to equality." No excuse - whether based on halakha, tradition or anything else - can justify the humiliation and crass exclusion of individuals, all the more so of young girls.

The Shas leadership is demonstrating scorn for both the law and its own electorate. The party shows a tragic lack of concern for its constituents, testifying to the inversion of values among the leaders of this supposedly socially-based party. Shas, after all, was created in the 1980s - ostensibly as part of the struggle against ethnic discrimination.

It's hard to believe that these students' parents will accept the deceit that there is "no discrimination" taking place because Shas' Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani school system has created an institute in Immanuel specifically for Mizrahi students. This is merely a front - pretending the school is "kosher" is itself a sin.

The Education Ministry threatened sanctions last week against the school in Immanuel, but has yet to take decisive action. There is no reason the school should enjoy the benefit of the doubt - which Petah Tikva religious schools did not receive in their refusal to admit students of Ethiopian origin earlier this year - until the High Court returns to hearing the case. The education minister must instruct the director of the Beit Yaakov school system to remove every last sign of discrimination within his institutions, and immediately. If the school's contemptible practices persist, the state must use all measures at its disposal to end them - from denying funding to using force to ensure equal treatment.