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Ha'aretz, June 7, 1999

President's prize to school that excludes Ethiopians

By Aliza Arbeli, Ha'aretz Correspondent

On June 16, next Wednesday, President Ezer Weizman will award the country's most prestigious education prize to an elementary school for girls in Kiryat Malachi that is run by the Chabad Hasidic movement. The prize is awarded on the basis of educational achievement.

But the school, like all Chabad schools, does not accept Ethiopian children even though it is state-funded. This policy is based on the instructions of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, who ordered the children of Ethiopian immigrants excluded from Chabad institutions due to doubts about their Jewishness.

The result of this policy is that the other schools in Kiryat Malachi and other peripheral areas have a disproportionately high number of Ethiopian students. In many places, Ethiopians find themselves in homogeneous classrooms, hindering their integration into Israeli society.

The situation is especially problematic in Kiryat Malachi, where Chabad operates three schools: two elementary schools (one for boys and one for girls) and a girls' high school. None of these schools has any Ethiopian students, while most students in the government schools are Ethiopian immigrants. As a result, the level of studies and the number of students who pass their Bagrut comprehensive examinations is among the lowest in the country despite massive state funding of special educational projects.

"It is outright racism," claims Abraham Tatazai, an Ethiopian community representative in Kiryat Malachi. "Ethiopian children are accepted at all the town's educational institutions, but for the Chabad Hasidim the Ethiopians are not Jewish enough."

The principals of schools that accept Ethiopians, and have invested a lot in their social adjustment, are frustrated. Kiryat Malachi educators are calling it "a slap in the face" that the president's prize is going to a school that perpetuates discrimination and racism.

A spokesman at President Weizman's office said in response that the president merely gives out the prize and does not choose its recipients.

The spokesman of the Education Ministry, which is responsible for the decision, said the school in Kiryat Malachi was chosen for its many achievements, innovative activities and implementation of original ideas. The spokesman also said the school's students include both native-born Israelis and immigrants from a wide variety of economic background and is open to all students who want a Chabad-inspired education.

Chabad spokesman Menachem Brod, however, confirms that Ethiopian children are not accepted in the Hasidic movement's institutions.

"This is an instruction from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and also a ruling by our rabbis," he said. He also reiterated that the Ethiopians are not being singled out, since Chabad policy applies to anyone whose Jewishness is questionable."

MK Adissu Messele, head of the Ethiopian immigrants' umbrella organization, is enraged over the decision to grant the price to a Chabad school.


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

Ha'aretz, June 30, 1999

Chabad school given education prize, despite storm over rejection of Ethiopian students

By Iris Baram, Ha'aretz Correspondent

The Chabad School for Girls in Kiryat Malachi received the prestigious Education Award yesterday, despite the public controversy raised by the school's policy of turning down students of Ethiopian origin who had not undergone the strictest form of conversion.

Last month, after Ha'aretz first reported that the highly regarded prize was to go to the Chabad school, President Ezer Weizman announced he would not give the award to the school because of the outcry aroused by its rejection of Ethiopian students who had not undergone strict conversion.

The Education Ministry's Awards Committee also announced that due to public sensitivity the award would not be given to the school, although it met the award criteria.

Thus, at the awards ceremony on June 16 in the presence of President Weizman, the Chabad school was left out.

But yesterday, after further deliberations, the Education Ministry and the President's Office decided to go ahead with awarding the prize to the Chabad school, although Weizman will not make the presentation.

The decision to proceed with the award was taken to amend its unjust cancellation, said Education Ministry spokesman Benny Shukrun.

Two days before the ceremony, Education Minister Yitzhak Levy spoke with Weizman and explained to him the complexity of the issue, Shukrun said.

They agreed that a representative from the President's Office would visit the school before a final decision was made. After a visit to the school, the director-general of the President's Residence, Aryeh Shumer, came away feeling that Chabad is a movement promoting the absorption of new immigrants, including from Ethiopia, Shukrun said. Shumer told Weizman that there was no reason not to give the award to the school, the ministry spokesman said.

During yesterday's award ceremony, Shumer said that his visit to the school had removed any doubt in his mind that the Chabad movement's schools were open to students of all races. Levy emphasized that the education system is open to everyone and that Chabad is dedicated to the absorption of new immigrants.

The chairman of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jewry, Yoav Hass, responded to the decision by petitioning the High Court of Justice to order the education minister to cancel the award. In the petition, Hass said that "the regulations of the Chabad movement not to accept Ethiopian students who had not undergone the strictest conversion, which most of them had not done, stands in serious opposition to the basic law on human dignity and freedom.


(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

Chabad School Receives Presidential Award Despite Shouts of Racism

(IsraelWire-6/30-1999) The Chabad Kiryat Malachi Girls School has received the Presidential Award of Excellence for its high standards of education despite accusations the school is racist since it does not accept members of the Ethiopian community.

Following reports in the media accusing the school's officials of maintaining a racist policy, the June 16th awards ceremony did not include the school. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Education changed its decision once again and the school did receive the award, although without the presidential presentation.

Education Minister Yitzhak Levy met with the president and it was decided that Aryeh Shumer, the director-general of the President's Residence would visit the school and report to Mr. Weizman. It was decided that the Chabad movement is particularly active in promoting and assisting new immigrants, including those persons arriving from Ethiopia. The green light was given to present the award. Shumer emphasized that a visit to the school ruled out any doubts as to the school's standards as well as its policy of accepting children from all segments of the population.

The decision to move ahead with the award prompted the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jewry to file a petition with the High Court of Justice, calling upon it to intervene to stop the planned presentation of the award.

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