What Ethnicity Is God?

It took a lot of gall on the part of the state to tell a court that it found no proof of ethnic discrimination in admission to ultra-Orthodox seminars.

It took a lot of gall on the part of the state to tell a court that it found no proof of ethnic discrimination in admission to ultra-Orthodox seminars. For more than 20 years I have been covering Haredi issues, and during that time I have had hundreds of conversations with people about discrimination in the seminars. I cannot remember a single case in which anyone denied that discrimination exists. Even the independent Haredi press no longer hesitates to fight the phenomenon and publishes reports and articles about it. In recent years, Hezi Sheinelson, the assistant to the former education minister, has conducted an aggressive campaign against quotas for Mizrahi girls in the seminars, but after the state's response, it is not at all clear what exactly he wasted his time on.

The state told the Administrative Court in Jerusalem last week that it would reform its supervision of the registration and admissions process at the Haredi seminars. It also said it would require the seminars to provide the government supervisors with lists of the admitted and rejected students, as well as documentation of the entire admissions process. But the state refuses to admit to the reason for the reform. Maybe that is because it would require it to admit that for decades there has been institutionalized ethnic discrimination and not only has the state not done anything, it finances the racist, discriminatory school system.

In spite of what the state told the court, this is the reality: There is a 30-percent quota for Mizrahi girls at Ashkenazi Haredi seminars. The quota is the least of the evil. There are institutions that do not accept 30 percent. The reason for the quota is that the Ashkenazi parents won't send their girls to schools with a higher proportion of Mizrahi girls. Some of the Haredi rabbis have been fighting the discrimination for years, but the institution's principals are more powerful than they are. Hundreds of Haredi girls are left without a school at the beginning of each school year. The vast majority are Mizrahi, while others are the daughters of newly religious families and or families that are not Haredi enough for the school.

Ethnic discrimination in admission to educational institutions is a criminal offense that carries a sentence of up to a year in prison. So why have so few principals been prosecuted? The reason is that it is a society in which an appeal to the authorities ("moser") is a very grave offense and could result in the social excommunication of the entire family. Ethnic discrimination is not only not considered an offense - it is considered the norm in that society.

The Education Ministry played a particularly scandalous role in the whitewashing of the ethnic discrimination in the seminars. Two commissions it established supposedly examined complaints about discrimination and reached the conclusion that it is impossible to prove it exists. Both made do with reports of a page and a half, which is about half the length of a conventional introduction to such a ministry report. The truth is that proving the existence of discrimination is no problem, if only the commissions had bothered to conduct a simple check: comparing the data on the girls who were not accepted to those who were.

One of the reports said, "There are parents from the supposedly repressed community who themselves argue that admissions of girls from that same community should not go above a certain quota." In other words, it is impossible to prove the existence of the discrimination, but it is possible to provide justifications for its existence and to rely on collaborators to do so.

It is difficult to ignore the fact that the two commissions were known as the Abramovitch Commission and the Greenfeld Commission. Perhaps to avoid suspicion of ethnic discrimination in education ministry commissions in the future, the next commission to examine ethnic discrimination should be called the Marciano Commission.

The court hearing presents a real challenge to the Council of Torah Sages. Are they really interested in secular courts forcing their educational institutions to put an end to the quotas, instead of doing it themselves? These are the same rabbis who just recently conducted a massive campaign against the use of third-generation cellular phones by Haredim. Are they ready to conduct a similar campaign for the sake of the Mizrahi girls? And if not, is nothing sacred? Or maybe the rabbis think that God is an Ashkenazi?