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13 Aug, 2009 12:15

Israeli schools refuse enrollment to Ethiopian-origin students

Israeli schools refuse enrollment to Ethiopian-origin students

Ahead of the beginning of a new school year, some private Israeli schools are refusing to enrol children of Ethiopian origin, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.

This time it is the residents of Petah Tikva who face discrimination. Around 100 Ethiopian schoolchildren are still waiting to be enrolled less than three weeks before the new academic year.

Haaretz.com writes that only several weeks ago these private schools demanded the funding they are entitled to under the law. At the same time they are unwilling to take up their obligations to the state, namely helping to absorb immigrants, the edition quotes Rabbi Shay Piron.

Responding to the criticism, Yigal Amitay from one of the private schools, Darchei Noam, said they had accepted fourteen Ethiopian-origin children. The student body of the school amounts to 600. Another Petah Tikva private ultra-Orthodox school, Da'at Mevinim, said they had enrolled seven students of Ethiopian origin.

The other private schools of the city have declined to make any comments, haaretz.com says.

The Education Ministry has stepped into the conflict. It ordered the municipality to check the situation of all schools in the city

“It is the obligation of the local authority to assure the enrollment of all students living in its jurisdiction. The ministry will demand that the students also be enrolled in the 'recognized but unofficial schools.' If this is not done, the ministry will take all the educational and administrative steps at its disposal,” the Education Ministry said on Wednesday.

Poor record

The discriminatory treatment against Ethiopian Israelis has long been a problem in the country. Humanitarian organizations for the rights of Ethiopians in Israel receive hundreds of complaints annually concerning racist attitudes towards the ethnicity.

Thus, in 2007, four young Ethiopian Israeli girls in Petah Tikva were segregated from other students and put into separate classes. Back then the case caused great controversy and received extensive media coverage in Israel.

Also this year, a Hadera elementary school came under the spotlight for its decision to single out certain students of Ethiopian origin for extra Hebrew lessons.

In response, outraged parents have sent a letter to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

“Giving separate lessons to a group from a specific origin, that is not based on academic criteria, and hurts their right to equal education,” the letter said.

The Education Ministry reacted by calling it “poor judgment”.

Ethiopia’s Jews: historic return

Ethiopia's Jews first came into spotlight in the 1980s. Back then thousands left their famine-stricken birthplace, heading for the Biblical “promised land”. Over the last three decades, immigrants continued to arrive in the country, which was considered in Israel as fulfillment of the biblical prophecy of a gathering of Jewish exiles to Zion.

However, in 2008, the government ended the policy of immigration, saying it wanted to focus on integrating Ethiopians already in the country instead. The move caused a wave of criticism from the Ethiopian Jewish groups.