Israel's High Court to Hear Petition Against Segregation at ultra-Orthodox Girls' Schools

Petition submitted by Noar Kahalacha organization and social activist Yoav Laloum, who headed the fight against ethnic segregation at the Beit Yaakov girls school in the West Bank settlement Immanuel in 2008.

A petition against the Education Ministry, Jerusalem and several other municipalities is to come before the High Court of Justice today seeking to stop the "apartheid-like" ethnic segregation at state-funded, ultra-Orthodox girls high schools.

The petition was submitted by the Noar Kahalacha organization and social activist Yoav Laloum, who headed the fight against ethnic segregation at the Beit Yaakov girls school in the West Bank settlement Immanuel in 2008.

Moti Milrod
Moti Milrod

At question are mainly Mizrahi girls - those whose families' origins are in the Arab-speaking countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

The petitioners demand that the Education Ministry and municipalities of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi'in Ilit and Betar Ilit stop the discrimination against Mizrahi girls in these schools and revoke the quotas restricting their admission.

"This is no ordinary petition," Laloum said yesterday. "This is a grave indictment against the Education Ministry, which is abandoning thousands of girls to the ultra-Orthodox political hacks. The discrimination must end now. We demand a transparent and supervised registration process for the schools. The quotas must be done away with."

Laloum said dozens of girls are sitting at home after being rejected by ultra-Orthodox high schools merely because of their Mizrahi origin. He submitted lists of 25 Mizrahi girls in Jerusalem, 48 in Bnei Brak, six in Betar Ilit and 11 in Beit Shemesh.

The petitioners submitted papers showing that the quota for Mizrahi girls at 25 state-funded high schools in Jerusalem does not exceed 30 percent and is often much lower. They also submitted a list of ninth-grade students' names in four randomly checked classes in one Jerusalem high school.

"We may not believe our eyes and ears, but in this school there is apartheid-like segregation between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi girls," says the petition, submitted by Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of Sha'arei Mishpat Academic College.

"You don't have to be an expert sociologist to know that Bernstein, Korngold and Rothstein ... are Ashkenazi names, while Gabbai, Biton, Mualem and Arbiv are Mizrahi. The discrimination screams out from the list and is a shameful mark on the schools' forehead."

The best ultra-Orthodox girls high schools practice this discrimination, which is clearly dictated by the local authorities, the petitioners say.

Laloum collected dozens of complaints from Mizrahi girls who were forced to enroll in Mizrahi schools after being rejected by the good Ashkenazi schools because of their ethnicity.

"Instead of measuring a school's prestige by its academic standards, virtually the only criterion for these schools' standing is the rate of 'Mizrahi' girls in it," the petition says.

"For this reason the schools don't examine each candidate's knowledge or skills but focus on her ethnic origin. If a girl is found to be Mizrahi, her chances of being admitted are almost nil unless she belongs to one of the 'aristocratic families' close to the government."

"We wanted to enroll our girl in high school," a Mizrahi father in Jerusalem told Haaretz. "We were rejected again and again by six schools, although the girl had an excellent report card. Her grades and qualifications are much higher than the Ashkenazi girls who were admitted right away.

"In one school the interview ended after five minutes and the principal told my wife shamelessly: The Mizrahi quota is full. She said she'd accept her only if we registered her under my wife's maiden name, Liebowitz."

According to a girl from Bnei Brak, "They all came to me before registration to study from me, because I had the highest grades. All I wanted was to go to the best high school with all my friends, but they humiliated me, rejected me, just because my skin is a little darker. Friends who got much lower grades were admitted only because they're Ashkenazi, and I don't understand, why? I've been home alone for almost three months, wasting time."

A 2009 ruling by the High Court of Justice ordered the Immanuel school to integrate Ashkenazi and Mizrahi girls. In April last year the court fined the parents who violated the ruling and some of them were sent to prison.