Israeli Town Sued for Refusal to Enroll ‘non-Jew’ in Its Religious School

The Ramle school turned away the boy on the grounds that his mother, who immigrated to Israel from Azerbaijan 19 years ago, is not Jewish

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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The mother and her son, who was refused at a religious school in Ramle, at their home, October 18, 2020.
The mother and her son, who was refused at a religious school in Ramle, at their home, October 18, 2020.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The Justice Ministry has sued a city in central Israel for refusing to let a young boy study in a state-religious school in Ramle on the grounds that his mother is not Jewish.

According to the suit, which was filed in the Ramle Magistrate’s Court Sunday, the city’s schools department also threatened to expel relatives of the boy who are enrolled at the school.

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The ministry is demanding an apology from the city’s Education Administration and damages of 265,867 shekels ($78,700).

In its lawsuit, the ministry’s Legal Aid Department said the refusal to allow the 6-year-old to enter the first grade at the school chosen by his mother violated laws prohibiting discrimination and mandating the protection of personal privacy.

The mother, who is 26 and lives in Ramle, immigrated to Israel from Azerbaijan 19 years ago, under the Law of Return, which gives Jews the right to come and live in Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship. As such, both she and her son are considered Jewish.

According to the lawsuit, in August the mother came in person to the town hall to register her son for the first grade in the (Jewish) state religious school near their home. The city’s Education Administration denied the request. It claimed that the mother’s declaration that she is Jewish is false, and therefore her son is not entitled to register for the school she chose.

“With my ID card in her hand she asked me whether I’m Jewish, probably because of my name,” said the mother, who replied that she is in fact Jewish. “She returned from her office and said, ‘I checked, you’re not Jewish, you can’t register the child.’” The mother said that she insisted that she is Jewish, otherwise she couldn’t have immigrated to Israel, and explained to the administration that her son’s relatives study in the same school, which is why she chose it.

“She told me there’s a law that came out and anyone who isn’t Jewish can’t study in that school. I said, ‘So how are [relatives of our family] registered?’ She replied, “If necessary I’ll remove them too.’” In an email correspondence after the encounter in the municipality building, the Education Administration wrote to the mother that “the decision is for the good of the child.”

Only after the intervention of the Justice Ministry’s Anti-Racism Coordinating Unit, to which the mother turned, did Ramle allow her to enroll her son at the school.

“I pay taxes like any ordinary citizen, why shouldn’t I be able to register my child for the school?” asked the mother. “I want him to have the basic conditions that every citizen has. I don’t want these things to be repeated, I don’t know who else it happened to. Maybe it happened to others and they didn’t do anything about it. We’re suing in order for it not to happen again.”

According to the lawsuit, “This serious conduct is considered unacceptable and forbidden discrimination regarding the plaintiff’s religion or origin. This conduct is even considered defamation and constitutes a blow to the dignity of the plaintiff and her right to equality and privacy.”

‘A distorted, tendentious suit’

Tigist Getahun Samuel, a lawyer who is representing the mother, said: “Unfortunately, in Israel of 2020 we still encounter instances of expressions of discrimination. In this case too, the plaintiff experienced serious and unacceptable discrimination, when a local government and the administration of the education department treated her, a single mother, whose only wish was to be given equal opportunity for herself and her son in the choice of education for him, in a different and discriminatory manner, for no reason and based only on a suspicion regarding her origin and her religion.”

Aweke Kobi Zena, the coordinator of the Justice Ministry’s National Anti-Racism Unit, said: “Due to the discrimination and the serious and unlawful harm to the child, a civil lawsuit was filed against the local government, which was the right thing to do in this case. We will continue to act with determination to eliminate racism and discrimination in the Civil Service, without regard to nationality, religion, origin and gender.”

In a written response, the Ramle municipality said: “The pupil, the subject of the lawsuit, was admitted by the municipality to the school he requested even before the start of the school year, and before any request was received by the municipality. The lawsuit is distorted and tendentious and the Ramle municipality will respond to the lawsuit in court.”

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