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November 30, 2015 / 18 Kislev, 5776
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Imprisoning Emmanuel Parents Is Morally Absurd

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The issue in the girl’s school controversy in Emmanuel is not about ethnic discrimination but about differences between religious groups. The school’s educational policies are based on the level of observance, not ethnic background.

“Ashkenazi” and “Sephardi,” in this case, are euphemisms for more strict and less strict.

This is not about racism and civil rights and bigotry, as some have darkly suggested. Nor is about “rule of law,” since setting rules and standards is up to the school and applies to all, regardless of ethnic background.

Israel’s Supreme Court has misunderstood the issue and turned a local dispute into political power struggle over who controls a community educational system and determines its policy. Imprisoning parents who refuse to follow the court’s decisions is not only extreme, it’s hardly intelligent. If they still refuse to submit after serving time, will they be kept in jail until they do? This is legally and morally absurd.

Such actions by the state, its courts and police, will not solve the problem and will further alienate large numbers of Israeli citizens. Prejudice is a social problem, but this is a case of discrimination over social and religious, not educational, issues. By making it a legal issue, and criminalizing its practice, the court insists on attacking the beliefs of a significant sector of the population. Since none of the justices are haredi, or know much about this community, and some of them have biases against the community, it’s doubtful they understand the haredi world.

This is a law-abiding, strictly observant Jewish population that sets its own standards and rules, especially those concerning social and educational issues – and in a democracy, they have that right. Rejecting an Israeli culture dominated by materialism, sexuality and pornography, they seek to create barriers to prevent the erosion of their values and beliefs.

The matter is more complicated because the “discrimination” of which they are accused does not seem to be based on ethnicity, since many of the students in the school are Sephardi. Moreover, in some cases, discrimination is not only appropriate, it’s obligatory.

One may question the basis for making judgments, but hardly the right of individuals, especially parents, to make decisions they believe are in their own and their children’s best interests.

School administrators need to make decisions about policies as well as curriculum, because schools are not only educational but also social institutions. Children learn more in school than what teachers offer and classrooms maintain.

Failure to appreciate the importance of schools to these communities and to respect legitimate distinctions parents and school administrators make shows a certain arrogance and ignorance – as well as a lack of tact.

The question raised by this controversy is whether parents and educators have the right to decide what goes on in their school. The court’s action is unfortunate because, by deliberately polarizing the issue, the justices have impeded a meaningful and creative solution. It further alienates haredi Jews from the state and a national ethos, it alienates non-haredi and non-observant Jews from those who are haredi by stigmatizing them as “racist,” and it tears our delicate social fabric.

The haredi community is not the enemy; it is an integral and important part of the Jewish people. Haredim are Israeli citizens and critical to our future as a state and a society. Treating them recklessly, with koach rather than moach, hurts our collective national interests.

By asserting their power rather than their understanding, the justices have damaged the Supreme Court’s own reputation. They may win this battle, and force the parents to opt out of the system, but they will lose the more important struggle for social cohesion and Zionism.

A government that imprisons its own population in order to survive loses its legitimacy.

About the Author: Moshe Dann is a writer living in Jerusalem.

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