State Cuts Funds for Petah Tikva Schools That Banned Ethiopians

Netanyahu: Refusal to enroll Ethiopian pupils in private religious schools is 'attack on our morals.'

The Education Ministry on Sunday announced it would cut funding for three state-religious schools in Petah Tikva, after they refused to enroll Ethiopian students.

The ministry's decision comes after a parents' committee representing the schools rejected Petah Tikvah's Mayor Yitzhak Ohayon's proposal, which would allow some of the pupils to enroll in three institutions, while others would be absorbed in other schools across the city.

Ohayon on Sunday said that an agreement has been outlined to enroll the Ethiopian students initially banned from some of the city's schools, but that it has yet to be approved by the Education Ministry.

According to the plan - which was agreed upon during a meeting between Ohayon, the principals of three private religious schools and Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, who headed the Knesset's Lobby for the Advancement of Education - the three schools would enroll 30 students instead of 50.

The plan also calls for 34 additional students to be integrated into state-religious schools in the city and 45 more students to enroll in other schools that are recognized but are not officially state-funded.

Ohayon said that the students would be integrated into regular classes without preconditions. However, documents he presented indicated that the enrollment in the private schools would be in accordance with the "standard way of life" acceptable in these schools - meaning that the schools may decide not to allow the students to enroll.

The parents' committee said the mayor's proposal would continue to divide Ethiopian students unequally among the religious schools in the city.

The committee is still planning to strike the opening of the school year on Tuesday.

Kadima MK Shlomo Mula called the mayor's proposal "shameful and insulting," adding that it essentially "authorizes a racist policy for private schools."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier Sunday that the refusal of Petah Tikva religious schools to enroll Ethiopian students is "an attack on our morals, contradicting our ethos as a country, as a society, as Jews and as Israelis."

The three private ultra-Orthodox schools in Petah Tikva, Darkei Noam, Lamerhav and Da'at Mevinim have been persistent in their refusal to enroll 100 students of Ethiopian origin.

The PM's comment on Israel Radio came while the former director-general of the education ministry MK Tirosh is to present a compromise to the principals of three Petah Tikva private ultra-Orthodox schools on Sunday, in an attempt to end recent strains over their refusal to admit Ethiopian students.

According to the offer, students of Ethiopian origin would be included in all of the city's religious schools without having to pass admissions tests.

Furthermore, private institutions will place those students in regular classes, and not in "assimilation" classes, as the three schools offered.

The proposal also states that immigrant students would also attend extra curricular classes, meant to support struggling students ahead of their regular classes.

These lessons would become available to all the students who need extra work, and not just those from immigrant families, the proposal says.

Their principals have informed the Education Ministry last week that they would not attend the hearing scheduled in the ministry's director-general office on Sunday.

However, on Sunday the principals added that they did not yet reach a decision on whether to attend the hearing, with a "final decision to be announced on Sunday."

Last Wednesday it was reported that the Education Ministry was preparing to immediately pull all funding for private Orthodox schools that refused to enroll Ethiopian immigrant children, according to various ministry sources.

"These schools will have to come to their senses and decide where they stand vis-a-vis Israeli society," Education Minster Gideon Sa'ar told Haaretz in an interview last Tuesday.

Principals of three private Orthodox schools in Petah Tikva that refuse to enroll immigrant children from Ethiopia said Saturday they would not attend a hearing in the office of Education Ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani today.

The principals of Lamerhav continued, however, to refuse to take immigrant children from Ethiopia into their schools, despite the Education Ministry's threat to pull their funding.

The principals argued on Tuesday that the issue should be addressed with the other private schools in the city, including two ultra-Orthodox ones.

"If all the private schools were invited to discuss the issue, the three principals would come too," they said.

"If the Education Ministry insists on equal enrollment of immigrant children from Ethiopia, then the remaining Orthodox [private] schools in town should also be part of it," one of the principals said.