Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest school ruling

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest school ruling
# 17 June 2010 23:21 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Tens of thousands of black-clad ultra-Orthodox Jews staged mass demonstrations on Thursday to protest a Supreme Court ruling forcing the integration of a religious girls’ school, APA reports quoting news.yahoo.com website.
Protesters snarled traffic in Jerusalem and another large religious enclave, crowded onto balconies in city squares, and waved posters decrying the court’s decision and proclaiming the supremacy of religious law. There were no reports of violence.
The protest shined a spotlight on a wide array of social issues Israel has been grappling with for years, including discrimination inside the Jewish community, the disproportionate clout of the country’s ultra-Orthodox minority and the precarious state of the country’s education system.
Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at a girls’ school in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel don’t want their children to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim.
The Ashkenazi parents insist they aren’t racist, but want to keep the classrooms segregated, as they have been for years, arguing that the families of the Sephardi girls aren’t religious enough.
Israel’s Supreme Court rejected that argument, and told the parents that the school must be integrated. It ruled that the 43 sets of parents who have defied the integration efforts by keeping their daughters from school were to be jailed on Thursday for two weeks.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about 100,000 people converged in downtown Jerusalem in support of the Ashkenazi parents. An additional 20,000 demonstrated in the central city of Bnei Brak.
Most of the demonstrators were men wearing the long beards and heavy black clothing typical among ultra-Orthodox Jews. "The Supreme Court is fascist," said one poster. "The prisoners of Emanuel are the messengers of the Jewish people," read another.
One of the protesters in Jerusalem, Esther Bark, 50, who has seven daughters, said the issue is keeping the girls away from the temptations of the modern world. "We don’t give our girls all the knowledge in the world, and to suddenly put them in an open-minded place is not good for them," she said. "They have been sheltered."
Another Jerusalem demonstrator, Barry Dubin, 28, a father of two, said the courts could not tell parents where to send their children to school. "This has nothing to do with racism," he said, "but in every culture there are differences in religion, there are levels, these girls are on a lower level than the others."
Rosenfeld said 10,000 police were deployed, and rescue services were on alert.
Sephardi religious leaders have not publicly criticized the demonstration or the Ashkenazi parents’ conduct.
"This is an example of something that should have been passed to a rabbinical court," said Nissim Zeev, a lawmaker from the Orthodox Sephardic political party Shas. "It’s out of proportion, and a bit puzzling, that the Supreme Court should impose a prison sentence on these parents."
Still, Zeev said the Sephardi girls had the right to choose to attend a mixed school. "If the children are together under one roof, then they are entitled to the same education," he said.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minority of some 650,000 Jews — just under 10 percent of the nation’s population — is an insular community that has been known to riot over the state’s intrusion into its affairs.
On Wednesday, ultra-Orthodox Jews hurled rocks and bottles and torched garbage bins to protest a hotel construction project that they claim will disturb Jewish graves.
The ultra-Orthodox have come under criticism for maintaining a separate, state-funded school system that focuses on religious studies and gives short shrift to the general studies that form the basic core curriculum of schools where secular or modern Orthodox Israeli children study.