High Court of Justice Approves Private School for Haredi Girls in Immanuel Segregation Row

The High Court of Justice yesterday approved the Education Ministry's decision to permit a new private school for ultra-Orthodox girls to open in the West Bank settlement involved in a segregation row last year.

The ruling will allow the settlement of Immanuel to erect a new "Hasidic" school in addition to the existing Beit Yaakov religious girls seminary.

Nevertheless, the justices raised a number of questions about the new school's future and expressed regret that the settlement would continue to segregate students of different backgrounds.

Led by Justice Edmond Levy, they also criticized the Education Ministry's policy toward nonstate schools, which they said enjoy near autonomy in drafting their course curricula.

Nonstate schools - most of which are run by non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox groups - receive just 55 percent of their budgets from the government. But the new school in Immanuel is unusual among nonstate schools in that the Education Ministry decided, and the parents agreed, that it would receive no state funding at all.

"When the Education Ministry considers giving permission to establish a nonstate school, it must ascertain, among other things, that it isn't assisting in creating an institution aimed not at preserving a community's uniqueness, but at perpetuating discrimination," the justices wrote.

They also said it was a "shame" that even though both sides in the dispute, and their respective rabbinical authorities, had expressed a desire for unity, the decision to split into two schools showed that unity was as yet nowhere to be seen.

"In these holy days, we call on all those involved: Practice what you preach," they wrote. "Those who have caused harm should ask forgiveness from those they have harmed, and all should accept the tenet 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

The ministry approved the creation of the new school late last month to resolve a dispute that had raged for over a year. The Noar Kahalacha organization had accused the existing Beit Yaakov school of ethnic discrimination, as it was essentially divided in two, with a wall down the middle. One half, the "Hasidic" track, was comprised mainly - though not exclusively - of Ashkenazi students, and the other half served most of the Sephardi students.

In August 2009, the High Court ruled that this indeed constituted ethnic discrimination, rejecting the parents' claim that the division was based solely on the girls' level of religious observance, and ordered the school integrated. In response, 74 girls from the Hasidic track, most of Ashkenazi origin, were removed from the school by their parents and transferred to a new, unauthorized school set up next door.

That led to another High Court ruling, earlier this year, that jailed the girls' fathers for contempt of the previous court order to integrate the school.

The Education Ministry said it decided to approve the new school after weighing "the parents' desire to educate their children in the educational framework of a religious Hasidic community."