"The day you are entering the first grade is a birthday for the country. All of the country starts the first grade with you. We want you to grow up together and study well. I want to send a hug from all of Israel's residents to each and every one of you and just tell you: Love the people because the people love you. Good luck with your studies, you are our future," Peres told the children.
Peres with the children (Photo: GPO)
Meanwhile Monday, Supreme Court Judge Ayala Procaccia ruled that the Education Ministry, the education minister and the Petah Tikva Municipality must respond within 48 hours to the request to admit all students of Ethiopian descent into the city's schools.
During the ceremony at the President's Residence, three students gave a blessing for the new school year. Sirin Slimane from Bu'eine-Nujeidat spoke in Arabic while Rivkah Dinau, an Ethiopian immigrant residing in Ashkelon and Amit Malka from Hatzor Haglilit spoke in Hebrew.
"I, too am excited together with you today, as is the whole country. You should know that you are loved anywhere you come from," the president told the new pupils.
Meanwhile, in a different location in the capital, some 30 representatives of the Ethiopian community protested against the education crisis in Petah Tikva's private schools. The activists were joined by parents and children and gathered outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem where an urgent meeting of the Education Committee convened. A separate larger demonstration was held in Petah Tikva.
President and education minister with one of children (Photo: Mark Neiman, GPO)
The protesters called on the Education Ministry to address the issue while carrying signs reading, "No for a local solution in Petah Tikva alone," "The greenhouse method grows flowers not children," and "Love for Israel also in the classroom." The rally's organizer, Roni Ekla said, "Fact is there are Ethiopian children who are refused admission by schools which are supported by the Municipality, whichever way you look at it – it's discrimination and racism.
"We want the community's kids to be able to register anywhere within the education system and study like everyone else. If the institutes won't go back on their decision - they ought to be shut down or at least be denied their budgets."
Ekla also added, "Why should you and I fund an education system which champions racism? Attitude towards the Ethiopian community is a ticking bomb which will explode at some point."
Among the speakers at the protest was Knesset Member Shlomo Molla (Kadima) who said that the education minister's leadership test has proven itself and it is now upon him "To complete the puzzle and take away the three racist schools' licenses.
"A step has been made at the right direction but it is not enough, this is battle for a principal and we must fortify the state education in the proper way. Once and for all we must declare, enough. No more discrimination."
Daniel Edelson and Aviad Glickman contributed to this report