Israel Officially Bars Discriminatory Admission Policy at ultra-Orthodox Schools

New regulations cover institutions that do not teach the full core curriculum, some of which have refused to accept pupils of Middle Eastern or North African origin

Ultra-Orthodox school children walk to school in Jerusalem's Haredi Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Sebastian Scheiner / AP

Education Minister Naftali Bennett signed regulations on Monday barring semi-independent ultra-Orthodox schools from admissions policies that discriminate on ethnic, political or socioeconomic grounds.

Although such discrimination was previously barred by ministry directives, the fact that it is now forbidden by binding regulations will help the ministry enforce the ban, using means such as withholding funding from discriminatory institutions.

The schools in question are known as “exempt” institutions, which means they are exempt from teaching the full core curriculum. In exchange, they receive only partial funding from the ministry. They currently have some 51,000 students, comprising about 12 percent of all students in ultra-Orthodox schools. In recent years, there have been several cases in which these schools refused to admit students of Middle Eastern or North African origin.

The new regulations are the first binding rules governing the conduct of exempt institutions. Aside from barring discrimination, they also state that schools which fail to file regular financial reports won’t receive even the partial government funding to which they would otherwise be entitled. Typically, such schools teach 55 percent of the core curriculum and receive 55 percent of the standard per-pupil funding.

Exempt schools will also have to submit a list of enrolled students and report any students who don’t come to class, in an effort to combat absenteeism. In addition, for the first time, these schools will receive funding to hire security coordinators, in an effort to improve school safety.

To enforce the new regulations, the ministry said it will increase the number of inspectors monitoring exempt schools from 12 to 30. Most of the schools in question are elementary schools for boys that run from first through eighth grade, the ministry noted.

Attorney Nilli Even Chen of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel said the real test of the new regulations will be whether they are enforced. “When we looked into this matter a few years ago, the number of inspectors was so minuscule that they couldn’t verify whether the schools were meeting their obligations,” she said.