Netanyahu slams Israeli school ban on Ethiopia Jews

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday condemned three Jewish religious schools for what he termed their immoral refusal to admit 100 Ethiopian Jewish students.

Spokesmen for Israel’s 100,000-strong Ethiopian community described the schools’ decision as discriminatory. Black Jews have long complained of prejudice in Israel.

The private ultra-Orthodox institutions, which also receive money from the government, denied the ban was racially motivated, saying the children required special funding and classes to raise their academic standards.

But Netanyahu called the ban “intolerable”.

“Rejecting Ethiopian students is simply an attack on our morals, contradicting our ethos as a country, as a society, as Jews and as Israelis,” Netanyahu said in an interview conducted jointly by Israel Radio and Army Radio.

“A school that continues along this line will suffer the consequences,” he said. “I have told (the education minister) to act as forcefully as possible.”

Education ministry officials have been quoted by the Israeli media as saying government funding for the schools, in the central city of Petah Tikva, would be withheld unless they admitted the students.

President Shimon Peres said last week the schools’ policy was a “disgrace” no Israeli could accept. Most Ethiopian Jewish children attend state schools, many of them religious institutions.

Israel’s chief rabbis determined formally in 1973 that Ethiopian Jews were descendants of the Jewish biblical tribe of Dan and were entitled to immigrate to Israel. Tens of thousands arrived in airlifts in the 1980s and 1990s.

(For blogs and links on Israeli politics and other Israeli and Palestinian news, go to blogs.reuters.com/axismundi)

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