United Torah Judaism lawmakers heavily criticized a Jerusalem court Monday after it ruled that the Elad municipality was in contempt of court because it was not registering ultra-Orthodox girls for high school by catchment area, despite promising it would do so in 2015.
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Jerusalem District Court ordered the city to immediately follow the agreement, which was aimed at preventing discrimination in admissions against girls from Mizrahi (Middle Eastern or North African) backgrounds – a frequent problem in ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) girls’ schools.
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) told the Behadrey Haredim website, “This is a day of disgrace,” and that “This upends the entire authority of the Haredi educational system.”
Fellow UTJ MK Israel Eichler said, “Legal interference with ultra-Orthodox education is a declaration of a culture war against ultra-Orthodox Jewry.”
Before the previous school year, 2015/16, several dozen pupils who live in Elad, most of them of Mizrahi origin, were refused admission to the city’s two Haredi high schools with Ashkenazi administrations – Darkei Chana and Lada’at Hokhma – to which they had applied. The crisis continued into the school year and the pupils’ parents contacted lawyers Yoav Lalum and Reuven Biton of the Noar Kahalacha nonprofit association, which fights ethnic discrimination in Haredi society.
Lalum petitioned Jerusalem District Court to force the city to place the girls, and in the end – following the intervention of the court and the Education Ministry – an agreement was reached: the city would begin registering girls according to defined geographic areas, which would blunt the ability of school officials to refuse to admit pupils.
However, the city just ignored the agreement and for the year 2016/17 conducted registration for girls’ high schools in the usual manner. Now it is in the midst of conducting registration for the 2017/18 school year – again in the old way.
Lalum and Biton petitioned the court again, asking it to declare the city in contempt of court, and to force it to register girls as agreed. The court ruled in their favor yesterday, with Judge Nava Ben-Or ordering the city to immediately publish ads and put up posters announcing the new registration mechanism. If it did not do so, she ruled, it would be fined 1,000 shekels ($272) for every day’s delay. Ben-Or also ruled that the city had to pay 15,000 shekels in court costs.
Since registration for the coming school year has already begun, the city will have to cancel everything that’s been done for next year and start over.
Noar Kahalacha welcomed the decision, saying, “The injustice done by the Elad municipality and the [Haredi] high schools in Elad has come to an end.”
Elad Mayor Yisrael Porush decried the court decision, saying, “The court ruling contradicts the explicit instructions of the Torah sages, to whom we will go to hear how to conduct ourselves.”
Ultra-Orthodox principals throughout the country plan to hold an emergency conference on the issue.