Peres: Refusal to Enroll Ethiopian Students a Disgrace No Israeli Can Accept

Government preparing to cut all funding for private Orthodox schools who refuse to enroll Ethiopian students.

President Shimon Peres on Thursday slammed the refusal by a number of schools in Petach Tikva to enroll Ethiopian immigrant children.

The decision not to enroll the students is "a disgrace no Israeli can accept", Peres said Thursday.

In response, the three Petach Tikva private issed a joint statement Thursday in which they vowed to allow Ethiopian immigrant children and students with disabilities to enroll for school, adding "it's up to the president to learn the facts of the matter."

Peres' statements Thursday came after it was reported that the Education Ministry is preparing to immediately pull all funding for private Orthodox schools that refuse to enroll Ethiopian immigrant children, according to various ministry sources.

The sources said the funding would stop unless the schools agreed by Sunday - two days before the school year begins - to enroll all the students assigned to them.

"We will not allow racist provocations, even if they are couched in all kinds of pretexts," Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said Tuesday.

A ministry official said the parents whose children attend the three schools in question are relatively well-off, and would not be affected by "a fine of a few percentage points. Therefore, the decision taking shape is to stop all funding."

These three schools receive most of their money from the ministry and the municipality.

The acting mayor of Petah Tikva, who is in charge of the city's Orthodox education system, Moti Zaft, said the only solution was separate classes for the immigrants, because they lacked knowledge and learning skills. Social activities would be held jointly with other children, he said.

He said the city's schools had agreed to divide equally the Ethiopian student body, and that the private schools had accepted his plan.

Sa'ar responded that special immigrant classes were "a stain on the education system and on any school that uses them," in an interview with Army Radio.

Rabbi Shay Piron, executive director of Hakol Hinuch, the Movement for the Advancement of Education in Israel, said Wednesday, "The struggle against the three private schools in Petah Tikva needs a much wider focus, on 'recognized, unofficial education.' Unless we wipe out this phenomenon, which has only grown in recent years, public education will continue to be the less attractive choice for Israeli parents."