As Academic Year Begins, Israeli ultra-Orthodox Girls' Schools to Remain Closed

Haredi educators say they’re being forced to accept pupils who are 'unsuitable' - often a code word for 'Mizrahi.'

Principals of ultra-Orthodox girls’ schools have called a strike of 9th grade students nationwide following a dispute with the Education Ministry over some of the students’ admission.

The strike was called after the Education Ministry summoned 10 principals for a hearing, following their refusal to admit at least 50 girls who were assigned to the schools by their respective local governments.

The local governments notified the principals that they were assigning dozens of girls to their schools in the last few days, but the principals said they would not admit them due to their “unsuitability.”

Haredi schools often use the term “unsuitability” when referring to girls whose families originate from North African and Muslim states. In addition, the term is applied to students whose families, whether from North African and Muslim states or Ashkenazim, are seen as too “modern.”

A relative of one of the girls who is supposed to begin 9th grade this year told Haaretz “she wasn’t admitted, although we’re an ultra-Orthodox family. Obviously if we were Ashkenazi she would be accepted. Ashkenazim are admitted even if they’re Christian. Her friend, with the same school scores, was accepted to a school in Bnei Brak. The girl is sitting and crying all day.”

The Haredi girls’ school association head, Rabbi Yitzhak Austerlitz, wrote to the principals that due to the municipalities’ forcibly assigning the girls to the schools, “after consulting with the Torah sages we [decided] not to open the school year in 9th grade nationwide until further notice.”

In another development, local schools in the ultra-Orthodox Kiryat Yearim community refused to admit some 40 students of all grades because they were not deemed sufficiently observant by ultra-Orthodox standards. The council has refused to organize transportation for these students to Jerusalem schools.

After the Knesset’s Education Committee chairman MK Yakov Margi (Shas) tried to sort out the issue and failed, the students’ parents said they would hold a protest at the local council’s offices on Thursday morning.

The problems in Haredi girls' schools occurs at the opening of every year. Last year the Haredi girls' school in Elad refused to accept students. The issue was finally settled in court and the school was forced to admit them the girls.

Attorney Yoav Lalum, an ultra-Orthodox activist who is campaigning for the Haredi girls, says this year the problem is worse. Rejected students who appealed to the Haredi education center and the Education Ministry’s appeals committee were not treated fairly and the schools’ position was accepted with no dispute, he said.

“The Education Ministry’s appeals committee isn’t doing its job and the proof is the large number of rejections without discussing the cases,” he said. “The girls’ schools supervisors are afraid to deal with the problems,” he said.

The Education Ministry hasn’t responded.