Three weeks into the school year, 70 students of Ethiopian origin from the shuttered Nir Etzion school in Petah Tikva are still at home, despite the city's assertion that all of the children have been assigned to other schools. The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hear a petition this morning against Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, his ministry and the city. Nir Etzion was branded an Ethiopian ghetto by Sa'ar because over 90% of its students were of Ethiopian origin.
Advocacy group taking Sa'ar to court over 'Ethiopian ghetto'
High Court to hear petition against Education Minister today.
By Talila Nesher • Ha’aretz
Three weeks into the school year, 70 students of Ethiopian origin from the shuttered Nir Etzion school are still at home, despite the municipality's assertion that all of the children have been assigned to other institutions. The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hear a petition this morning against Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, his ministry and the city of Petah Tikva.
The petition was filed by Tebeka, a legal advocacy organization for Ethiopian Israelis.
Nearly all of the students at the Nir Etzion school were children of Ethiopian immigrants. The school was closed abruptly at the start of the school year as part of a ministry decision to integrate children of Ethiopian descent more fully into Israeli society. But many schools in the city have balked at admitting the children, citing academic compatibility issues.
Tebeka wants the High Court to order the placement of all Nir Etzion students in mixed classrooms. The nongovernmental organization is also demanding sanctions against schools that refuse to admit the children - or that discriminate against them in any way - including the withdrawal of state funds and even closure of noncompliant institutions.
"The poor decision to close the school, on the grounds that it was the parents who created this situation, and the timing [of the closure] are unacceptable," said attorney Yasmin Keshet, who is representing Tebeka in the petition.
"There was deliberate tracking [of the students] for years that led to an 'Ethiopian ghetto' situation," Keshet said.
"If the solution now lies in schools outside the city that are so good, then why bus only Ethiopians to them? All the authorities turn a blind eye to the fact that only 19 students were placed in four private schools in Petah Tikva - in other words, fewer than five in each institution. They prefer sending the children outside the city in order to avoid a confrontation with the private schools," she said.
According to Keshet, city officials claim that leaders of the Ethiopian community are not fulfilling promises they made during negotiations over school placement, and failed to translate the city's position into Amharic for parents whose Hebrew is weak.
"They have the chutzpah to go to the activists and complain that they didn't agree to translate for the representatives of the municipality," Keshet said. "Their chutzpah has no limits. If the municipality wants to communicate with the parents, it should hire an interpreter."
Sa'ar also ordered the closure of the state religious school Rashbi in Be'er Yaakov, almost all of whose students are of Ethiopian origin. The local council did not implement the directive, on the ground that it was following the wishes of the parents. Rashbi students report to the school every day, even though the Education Ministry did not assign any teachers to the first- and second-grade classes. For the first week of school, children were placed with a teacher's aide; for the past two weeks they were taught by teachers who are not Education Ministry employees and who were hired by the local council.
"This is additional proof that the ministry's action was solely for the purpose of appearances," said Efrat Yerday of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews. "It's cosmetic in nature, and at the end of the day, these children are not receiving adequate care and are not under the ministry's responsibility."
"Private" school means a school within a haredi school network which receives all or the vast majority of its funding from the government.
Among the private schools refusing to take Ethiopian students is a Chabad school, which has no Ethiopian students and which is refusing to take any at all.
Most of the other schools have a small number of Ethiopian students but are refusing to take any more.
To deal with this problem, the government would need to impose sanctions on the schools refusing to take Ethiopian students.
Most of the other schools can get around this by taking three or four more Ethiopian students.
But Chabad can't.
Because the Rebbe told the former head of that Chabad school system never to take any Ethiopian Jews in their schools no matter what – even if the Ethiopian's had full Orthodox or haredi conversions.
I know this because the former head of those Chabad schools told me this in 1993. In 1994 he turned down $1 million from a donor whose condition for donating was that the Chabad schools take one Ethiopian kid – even a kid with a full haredi conversion qualified. The offer was rejected. When I was told, I offered to get an Ethiopian child with a full haredi conversion to enroll in one of the Chabad schools in that system, thinking the problem was finding a child with an acceptable conversion. The head of the schools system refused the offer because, he said, the Rebbe told him never to take an Ethiopian as a student in his schools.
So Chabad in Petah Tikva has no way out, meaning the school would most likely be defunded, and other sanctions would be imposed, as well.
That would upset Chabad, which is a vital member of the political right whose votes the right desperately needs in any election.
Sa'ar can't let that happen.
Hence the busing, the stalling and the lies.
I should also add that Chabad's refusal to take any Ethiopian students in its Petah Tikva school was reported in the Israeli press last week, but it has not been reported in America or Canada – except here on FailedMessiah.com.
The JTA ignored the story. So did The Jewish Week and the Forward.
And now Ha'aretz, whose longtime education writer is not covering this story, ignores it as well – even though Chabad's school is the worst offender of all.
Chabad puts a lot of time, energy and money into public relations and damage control.
And in this non-coverage of this story you see an example of Chabad's success, and an example of the failures that success engenders.