Combating Segregation of Ethiopian-Born Students in Petach Tikvah Schools

15 December 2008 By New Israel Fund

As the new school year begins, most of the 700 Ethiopian-born schoolchildren in Petach Tikvah are studying in classrooms which are virtually segregated from other Israeli schoolchildren.  At the Ner Etzion Religious Elementary School in the Yoseftal neighborhood, for example, only five out of 280 students are not Ethiopian-Israelis.   

Consequently, NIF grantee Tebeka –Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis petitioned the Supreme Court last week. “There are three state religious schools in Petach Tikvah and several private schools that receive state funding that are refusing to admit Israeli-Ethiopians,” explains Yael Segal-Machlis, Director of Tebeka’s Legal Department. “We are asking the Supreme Court justices to instruct Education Minister Yuli Tamir to introduce regulations that would deny government budgets to schools that behave in a discriminatory way.”

Tebeka has asked the Supreme Court to fast-track their decision – for the sake of 43 Ethiopian immigrant elementary schoolchildren who have been refused entry by all the city’s schools. The petition also requests that justices instruct the municipality to immediately find a place for these children.

Schools for Ethiopian-Israelis are becoming like ghettos.

Segal-Machlis observes that while Petach Tikvah, where large numbers of the most recent immigrants have settled, is the worst offender in the country, discrimination in the education system is widespread in Israel.   “Ethiopian immigrant ghettos” are also occurring in schools in Netanya, Hadera and elsewhere. “Our Supreme Court petition is designed to resolve the problem throughout the country,” she says, “and not only for the Ethiopian immigrant community. It is still common for Ashkenazi religious schools to refuse to accept Mizrachi students.”

Tebeka hopes to repeat its success of two years ago when a Supreme Court petition against the Or Yehuda Municipality resulted in a ruling that compelled that city to accept Ethiopian immigrant children in its schools. Tebeka has also sued a Petach Tikvah school in the local magistrates' court for damages on behalf of four Ethiopian immigrant students who were taught last year in a separate class for Ethiopian immigrants and kept apart from the other children.

Tebeka’s activites take place within the framework of NIF’s Fund for Ethiopian Israelis, which works to strengthen civil society among the Ethiopian community in Israel.