Update below, and more here: Settlement in Emanuel Bet Yaakov Segregation Dispute
The parents of the “Beit Yaakov Hasidi,” a breakaway girls’ school in the small West Bank town of Emanuel, were found in contempt of court last month for refusing to send their children to an integrated school. They have been sentenced to prison for two weeks, starting tomorrow. The case involves about 40 couples, of whom both parents will be incarcerated.
When I spoke with a mother from Emanuel a few months ago, she insisted that there was no racism because there were children of sephardic [North African] background studying in the break-away school. She claimed that the reason for the separate school was an influx of newly-religious parents into the community. The lifestyle of the newcomers [who were almost exclusively of sephardic origin] did not meet the religious standards of the existing parent body. When the original parents tried to force the newcomers into separate classes, the court ruled against them. The parents set up a separate school, which was also declared illegal. So the original parent body, which consisted of both ashkenazim and sephardim, went on strike. At the time of our conversation, the woman’s daughter and the other girls were studying secretly with a private teacher. When the court later learned about this arrangement, they fined each parent NIS 400 a day.
It’s distressing that parents are less concerned with what their children are learning than with whom they are learning. School choice should mean that parents choose a school based on convenience, curriculum, quality and educational approach. It shouldn’t mean that a group of powerful parents get to decide who is in and who is out. Parents who want complete control over who their children learn with should not expect the government to pay for it.
Still, the parents in Emanuel should not go to jail. They had agreed to withdraw their children from school and educate them at their own expense, unlike other Beit Yaakov and “chinuch atzmai” schools that are partially funded by the government. It’s awful, but where will it end? There are hundreds of home-schooled children in Israel, and the government isn’t sending their parents to jail.
One of the fathers, who is of sephardic origin and has been found in contempt of court, spoke on the radio this morning. He plans to bring his month-old baby to jail with him and his wife. I don’t know who will be watching the other children. This will not make a pretty picture. While I’m not naive enough to believe that this isn’t a case of ethnic discrimination, the court has gone too far and this decision is sure to backfire.
Photo from Channel 10 via Jpost.
Update Sunday evening, June 20, 2010:
It seems a compromise has been reached. Both sides have agreed to arbitration (borrerut) by a Jerusalem rabbinic court, and the civil suit will be withdrawn. The girls will all learn together, and if there are any problems with specific girls, the rabbinic court will deal with it. This is what my husband heard on the news and Rafi confirmed it. The only links I have seen so far mention the withdrawal of the suit by the sephardi Lalom, but the bigger news is the huge concession on the part of the chasidim. G-d willing, I’ll post links tomorrow.
Let’s hope that there are no lasting negative effects on the children of Emanuel.