Saar: No Immigrants? No Funding

Semi-private schools that refused to take in immigrants from Ethiopia may lose their funding, as the Education Ministry rejects compromise deal.

Maayana Miskin ,

Ethiopian-Israeli pupils protest
Ethiopian-Israeli pupils protest
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Three semi-private religious Zionist schools in Petach Tikva that refused to take in dozens of young pupils from Ethiopian-Israeli families may lose their funding. Education Minister Gideon Saar said Sunday night that if the pupils were not enlisted, the schools would lose the 55-70 percent of their budget that comes from state funding.

Last week, Saar accused the schools of racism for refusing to enroll the students.

The principals of the schools in question released a statement accusing the Education Ministry of stirring up trouble. The city and the schools have already reached a compromise that will allow the students to begin classes next week with their peers, they said. “The Mayor managed, with great effort, to find a solution... It pains us to see outside interests pulling the entire Petach Tikva school system into complete chaos,” they announced.

Education Ministry officials said they were aware of the compromise reached by the city of Petach Tikva and the three schools – and were displeased by it. The deal was reached “behind the Education Ministry's back, and without its knowledge,” they said.

"The Education Ministry insists that the student immigrants from Ethiopia be absorbed in these three schools according to the original assignment,” the ministry stated. “In addition, the Education Ministry does not find it acceptable that students from Ethiopia be sorted according to interviews.”

The deal reached between the schools and the city of Petach Tikva would have spread the integration of Ethiopian-Israeli pupils among a larger number of religious schools. While the Education Ministry planned to split the roughly 100 new arrivals between five religious-Zionist schools, the new arrangement would have seen the students sent to hareidi-religious schools as well.

The plan, backed by Mayor Yitzchak Ohayon and Kadima MK - and former Director-General of the ministry - Ronit Tirosh, would have integrated the children into regular classes, but with personalized study programs.

The plan was also rejected by the Parent-Teachers Forum of the state religious schools, which argued that the state religious schools are still being asked to absorb immigrants beyond their ability to do so, and by Ethiopian-Israeli organizations, which said the new plan allows schools to hold racist policies.

Principals: We're not Racist
Principals of the three semi-private institutions that refused to enlist Ethiopian immigrants said last week that they were willing to accept students from Ethiopia, and had in fact already enrolled dozens of students from Ethiopian-Israeli families, but that they were concerned about their ability to properly absorb older pupils. The older pupils are often behind their Israeli-born peers academically, principals argued.

The principals offered to accept the pupils into special courses designed to help them prepare to integrate in regular classes, but that suggestion was rejected by Education Ministry officials, who said it suggested racial segregation.

Tirosh: Schools were Slandered
Ohayon and Tirosh issued a statement backing the three schools threatened with budget cuts, and accusing Israel's media of “slander” and “a coordinated assault” aimed at portraying the schools as racist. The schools in question have a history of taking in new students from Ethiopia, and were unfairly targeted, Tirosh said.