Sephardi girls not being placed in Haredi schools

Several Israel cities have not complied with demand ordering them to submit their full list of high school placements by the end of July.

Haaretz, Israel/August 18, 2011

With two weeks to go before the start of the new school year, some 100 girls in the country's largest ultra-Orthodox enclaves still have not been accepted to any high school. Most of the girls are of Sephardi origin.

The cities of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi'in Ilit and Betar Ilit have not complied with a demand made by the Education Ministry's director general, Shimshon Shoshani, who earlier in the summer wrote to the mayors and city managers of all four cities, ordering them to submit their full list of high school placements by the end of July.

"I am writing to you as the person responsible for placing pupils in your city, asking that you immediately act to place the many pupils who have not been accepted to Haredi secondary schools," Shoshani wrote. "The complaints we heard after the registration period closed were that many pupils were not placed due to alleged discrimination, particularly relating to ethnicity, and that the schools don't have transparent procedures for placing girls."

Shoshani called on local officials to set up placement committees, headed by the director of the local education department and comprised of two Torah figures (one Ashkenazi, one Sephardi ), a truant officer and a ministry inspector.

"Due to the late date, I want to get a placement list of all the girls in your city by Thursday, July 28," he wrote.

Now, three weeks after that deadline has passed, no lists have been submitted, and an estimated 100 girls are still without a high school. Some of the cities did not even set up the placement committees requested by Shoshani.

Attorney Yoav Lalum, head of the Noar Kehalakha organization - which initiated court action last year against what it claimed was ethnic discrimination in Immanuel - condemned the cities for not following ministry orders. He also chastised the ministry for not going far enough.

"The Education Ministry and the high schools would prefer that we busy ourselves with the issue of which girls did or did not get accepted, and not with the real problem: the quotas set for Sephardim in the girls' high schools," Lalum said. "It's too bad that the Education Ministry keeps missing the point again and again."

Sources say the leading Haredi high schools set the quota for accepting Sephardi girls at 30%.

Soon after Shoshani sent his letter, the leading Ashkenazi Haredi rabbinical arbiter, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, called the principals of the Haredi high schools to a meeting and told them not to cooperate with the placement committee initiative.

"We must fight this decree," he was quoted as saying.

In May, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a scathing report on the issue, stating that the ministry had accumulated a great deal of evidence about suspected ethnic discrimination but had done nothing to uproot it.

In the report, he demanded that the ministry "make a real change in overseeing the registration and placement of girls in the Haredi sector."

The Education Ministry said it was aware that a small number of girls still had not been placed, "but we stress that the ministry will make sure that all are placed by the start of the school year."

The Jerusalem Municipality said it had initiated a "wide-ranging, strategic process ... to reach a comprehensive arrangement for placing all the city's girls in schools," and that it was working to place the few remaining girls.

Modi'in Ilit officials said 14 girls had not been placed; Betar Ilit officials reported that only a few girls still needed placement; officials from Bnei Brak reported that its placement committee had told the city's education department that all girls were placed.

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