A Hadera elementary school has been accused of racial discrimination, for its singling out of a number of students of Ethiopian origin, all born in Israel, for extra Hebrew lessons. In response to the accusation, the Education Ministry said the school used "poor judgment".
The Ahad Ha'am school first graders were enrolled in the extra lessons that are part of an American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee program operated by the committee and the Education Ministry. After parents became suspicious of racism, and a number of failed attempts to talk to the school about the matter, the children's parents turned to the JDC.
The parents sent an outraged letter to the committee via Attorney Itzik Desse, who is also the father of one of the students in question. "It should be noted that my daughter was 'chosen' for this program due solely to her origin and the color of her skin," the letter read.
"The program in which Ethiopian students are separated from the rest of their classmates for extra lessons without any examination or test of their level of achievements and abilities, and based only on their origin, is wrong and the program causes more damage than good."
The father said he received a permission slip to have his daughter enrolled in the enrichment program in December, but that the slip did not include any details. After hearing that only his daughter and three other Ethiopian students were in the program, Desse asked to have her removed from it.
"Giving separate lessons to a group from a specific origin, that is not based on academic criteria, hurts their right to equal education," the letter continued.
"Most of the children don't need the program at all. It turns out that the program not only doesn't help most of the children, but hurts them. All this creates and perpetuates a racist and stereotypical perception of Ethiopian students in particular and the Ethiopian community in general."
Desse also demanded the Hadera municipality, that received the funding for the project, end it immediately.
Meanwhile, the school's principal refused to comment without permission. The Education Ministry said in response, "The school operated poor judgment before enrolling the student in extra lessons. The school supervisor will refresh the school's management on the ministry's policies and criteria set in the program."
The ministry continued to say that the program was meant to bridge gaps between students, and that all allegations of discrimination were baseless.
JDC in response said, "According to our procedures, students cannot be taken out of the class without their parents' knowledge in advance. Also, according to procedures, an examination must be carried out first."