Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Haredi school crisis: much stuff and nonsense

With thanks: Independent Observer

Much ink has been spilled on what one blogger called 'the Mexican stand-off' at Emmanuel, culminating in the Israeli Supreme Court ordering recalcitrant parents of an Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox breakaway school to go to jail for contempt of court. The court order brought 100,000 haredim out onto the streets on Thursday to demonstrate their support for the parents.

I would only add the following:

* Let's get some sense of perspective: Sever Plocker writing in Ynet News is right: this is a controversy that concerns an ultra- ultra-orthodox sect, the Slonim Hassidim. It affects the extreme ultra-orthodox fringe of Israeli society, one of the few sectors where Ashkenazi-Sephardi differences still matter. It is largely irrelevant to Israelis as a whole.

*The press and media's attempts to spin this issue as an example of Ashkenazi racism against Sephardim have been way off-base. It is much more complex than that. Some of the parents who are being ordered to jail are themselves Sephardi, indicating that the affair has more to do with fanatical religious observance than racism.

* However, the involvement of New Israel Fund lawyers in the original petition against the breakaway school is disturbing. The New Israel Fund politicised an issue that should and could have been settled well away from the glare of international publicity.

* While they are right to insist that a state-funded school must abide by non-discriminatory admissions criteria, the Israeli courts should be criticised for handing down draconian jail sentences and insisting on their enforcement. Their heavy-handed approach has only created martyrs. It has forced a confrontation between 'religious' and 'secular'. It has also thrown up a double standard: As the Zionist Conspiracy has pointed out, the ( all but one) Ashkenazi judges of the Supreme Court were never as assiduous in insisting that those who flouted its ruling on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, for example, be arrested.

* The Slonim Hassidim should be encouraged to set up their own private school. This school would have every right to its own admissions policy, but not at the Israeli taxpayer's expense. This is broadly the line taken by the Sephardi orthodox party Shas. As one Professor Gonen has pointed out, nobody objected to Shas setting up its own Sephardi-only schools, which were viewed as positive discrimination, not racism.

Here is a sensible analysis of the Emmanuel affair at The Muqata blog. Since it was written the courts have had second thoughts and only the breakaway fathers may be ordered to jail.

Today marks what can potentially be a hugely significant day in the history of Israel of a State, as the Supreme Court of Israel has ordered the forced imprisonment of 44 couples for refusing to change their school's admission policy.

One thing I can tell you about this issue is that it is extremely complex, and far from a crude "Sephardi discrimination" case. I personally know 2 of the families that (if all goes according to the Supreme Court's plan) will be imprisoned tomorrow giving me a slightly more interesting picture than the journalists and bloggers who will be covering this event.
Some background: Our story takes place in the Shomron settlement community of Emmanuel, which prides itself as "the Bnei Brak of the Shomron".

There is a Beis Yaakov girls school in Emmanuel, run primarily by Slonim Chassidim. The Beis Yaakov school is funded by the State-acknowledged, "Chinuch Atzmai", independent school system, and the curriculum is fully out of the hands of Israel's education ministry.
Emmanuel's Beis Yaakov has admission policies that are now stricter than others as a result of their alignment with the Slonim Chassidim, and as a result, less Sephardim are enrolled in the school. The admission policy is not exclusively a Sephardi-Ashkenazi issue, but also one of observance.

One of the parents of a girl who was rejected from the school took the case to Israel's Supreme Court, and the court ruled yesterday that Beis Yaakov in Emmanuel must admit everyone, equally. Especially since Beis Yaakov is State-funded (despite being a "Chinuch Atzmai, Independent Education" school), the State can demand that there be zero discrimination based on Ashkenazi/Sephardi background.

I agree 100% with the above statement, and if the school is State-funded, it has to play by the rules. The Slonim Chassidim in Emmanuel have requested a permit for a totally independent, non-State funded school, so that they can have their own admission policy, and they will probably have that within the next month or so. Yet, the Supreme Court decided that they needed to force the issue, and with only 2 weeks left to the school year, they ruled that the parents must open the school equally to all.

Parents refusing to send their girls to the school as a result of the forced integration will be imprisoned for the remainder of the school year (2 weeks).
Here's where the story is so sad. 1. Of the 44 families (men and women) slated to go to jail tomorrow, at least 10 of them ARE SEPHARDIM. Their daughter are in the school currently as they accepted upon themselves the stringent criteria set forth by the school.

Anyone who says that this is a simple case of discrimination is simply lying. If there are Sephardim in the school, who agree with the school's policy, then it can't be purely an issue of discrimination.

2. The school could have been legally closed 2 weeks early for the summer vacation, and started two weeks earlier at the end of the summer, when the whole issue will have been resolved.

3. Chareidim are organizing a massive demonstration tomorrow in Jerusalem and initial police estimates place the crowd at 250,000 people. If the Chareidim ever felt alienated before, sending 44 families to jail will be a brutal slap in the face.

4. Israel's Supreme Court is arrogantly forcing this issue, as anti-Chareidi elements dance in the streets and froth at the mouth for the opportunity to send 44 couples to jail. Examples include Tzippi Livni on IDF radio who repeated over and over; "break the law and you must go to jail". Is it really necessary to turn these 44 families into martyrs, and turn the entire Chareidi community against the State of Israel?

Lastly, Dr. Ephraim Shach, son of Ashkenazi Godol HaDor, R' Elazar Menachem Man Shach read a letter on Israel's Channel Bet radio today that his father wrote 19 years ago. The letter stated in no uncertain terms that Ashkenazi schools must admit Sephardim; not as a matter of policy, but as "
halacha", with no excuses. The Supreme Court believes it has won, as it will force "lawbreakers" to respect the rule of law. The 44 families will believe they have won, as they will go to jail for 2 weeks and prove that the Zionist entity cannot break their will or force admissions policy on them.

The truth is -- we will have all lost.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"If there are Sephardim in the school, who agree with the school's policy, then it can't be purely an issue of discrimination."

You can say it is not an issue of racism, but it is discrimination.

If sephardim are accepted only when they give up their culture and traditions and behave like ashkenazim...

And let's face it... the sephardi X ashkenazi issue is still alive and well in israeli society. The higher death toll in the army, lower salaries, job opportunities...