Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest school verdict in Israel
JERUSALEM — Tens of thousands of black-clad ultra-Orthodox Jews staged mass demonstrations yesterday to protest a Supreme Court ruling forcing the integration of a religious school.
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 a few small scuffles, and a police officer emerged from one of them holding his eye, apparently slightly injured.
It was one of the largest protests in Jerusalem’s history, and a stark reminder of the ultra-Orthodox minority’s refusal to accept the authority of the state.
Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at a girls school in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel don’t want their daughters to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim.
Ashkenazi parents insist they aren’t racist, but want to keep the classrooms segregated arguing that the families of the Sephardi girls aren’t religious enough.
Israel’s Supreme Court rejected that argument, and ruled that 43 sets of parents who have defied the integration efforts by keeping their daughters from school be jailed 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.
Esther Bark, 50, who has seven daughters, said the issue is the temptations of the modern world. “To suddenly put them in an open-minded place is not good for them,’’ she said.
Nissim Zeev, a lawmaker from the conservative Sephardic political party Shas, said the issue should have been settled by a rabbinical court and that the parents’ prison sentence was “puzzling.’’ He insisted the Sephardi girls had the right to choose to attend a mixed school.
“Everyone wants to send their children to Ashkenazi schools,’’ said another demonstrator, Zion Harounian, 62, a Sephardic father of nine. “The quality of the Ashkenazi schools is much higher. They are stronger politically, so they get more money.’’