Ultra-Orthodox Jews accused of racism over education demands

Parents of European descent are refusing to let their daughters attend school with girls of Middle Eastern or North African origin

More than 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews took to the streets across Israel yesterday for a showdown between religious and secular society over the way the Jewish state runs its education system.

The protests brought central Jerusalem to a standstill as a group of religious parents prepared to go to prison for defying a court order demanding their daughters attend classes with girls of different ethnic origin.

Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, origin do not want their daughters to be educated in the same classroom as schoolgirls of Middle Eastern and North African descent, or Sephardim, claiming that they are not as religious.

The row brings into sharp focus growing discrimination within religious Jewish communities, and the increasing influence of the ultra-Orthodox sects that have long considered themselves unfettered by society's norms.

Batting off accusations of racism, the parents, who live in the West Bank settler community of Immanuel, have argued that their wish to separate their children is motivated only by religious and cultural differences between the different Jewish communities.

"The Sephardic Jews are less observant, they dress differently," said Carter Schwartz, a 31-year-old protester with an American accent. "It's like sending kids of a totally different learning level to Harvard, and the government forces [Harvard] to take them in."

Israel's Supreme Court has rejected the parents' argument, and has ordered them to serve two weeks in jail.

A massive police presence was stationed around Jerusalem's Old City as 100,000 protesters, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic, converged there to protest the court's decision and proclaim religious rule. A smaller contingent of some 20,000 marched earlier in Bnei Brak, a town near Tel Aviv.

Schoolchildren and women thronged the streets and leaned over balconies overlooking Jerusalem's religious Mea Shearim neighbourhood to watch the mostly-male demonstrators, most of them singing mournful dirges, go past.

Dressed in their traditional black garb and wide-rimmed hats, bearded marchers held aloft banners saying "God will rule for all eternity", a reference to the supremacy of religious interests over secular law, and "High Court against the people".

Many secular Israelis have little patience for Haredi Jews, the extremely conservative, religious minority that lives in ghetto-style communities across Israel, but are concentrated in Jerusalem within reach of Judaism's holiest sites.

Miriam Wiedler, a retired teacher, said that the state was meddling in affairs that should be the sole preserve of the parents, many of whose families pre-date the state. "These Haredim have been in Jerusalem for the last 250 years. They were here when the Turks were here, even before Israel became a state," she said. "If they let everybody live their own lives, nobody would fight each other."

The 43 sets of parents were scheduled to start their prison sentences at midday yesterday. That was later moved to 5pm to allow them to take part in the march and present themselves at a police station in central Jerusalem.

Commentators from both sides of the political divide railed against the marchers, warning that the religious communities have gone too far. "The discrimination in Immanuel contains in a nutshell the essence of the clash between the rule of law and separatist interest groups," wrote the liberal Ha'aretz newspaper in an editorial.

"Such groups... demand state funds to strengthen the independent education system that serves their children, but are unwilling to give in on even a single convention that governs their lifestyle."

The Haredi Jews are seen as an economic drain on society, with many of the men choosing years of subsidised religious studies over paid employment. A soaring birth rate has led to predictions that they could form a majority of Jerusalem's half-million population in a decade.

In recent months, they have proved a disruptive presence, littering Jerusalem with rubbish and soiled nappies to protest against a new parking lot that would encourage more traffic on the Sabbath and clashing with police to prevent the exhumation of ancient human remains that they claim are Jewish to make way for a new emergency hospital wing.

"No negotiation or agreement are possible with people who have no God but their father in heaven and his representatives on earth," wrote Yossi Sarid, a liberal commentator.

"This is a war... we cannot afford to lose. The rebellious Haredim must be put in their place, so that we, too, have a place in which to live."

At least some of the ultra-Orthodox community withheld their support from yesterday's demonstrations. Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, who heads the army's religious programme in Petah Tikva, called on religious Jews not to take part in the march.

"I cannot take part in the racism and discrimination that is taking place, which is just the tip of the iceberg," said Mr Sherlo, Ha'aretz quoted him as saying. "It's impossible to claim that this is Jewish law or that it is sanctifying the name of God."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Life and Style
tech
News
peopleIan Thorpe addresses Ricky Martin rumours
Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director
film

Mr and Mrs Smith star admits she's 'never been comfortable on-screen'

Arts and Entertainment
Australia singer Iggy Azalea has been attacked by Eminem in a new rap
music

Singer was ordered not to 'blow her rape whistle' in song 'Vegas'

Extras
indybest
News
Myleene Klass
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher -Full Time - ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Controller is required to ...

Randstad Education Cardiff: After School Club Worker

£40 - £45 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client in the Newp...

Randstad Education Cardiff: English Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education Cardiff is...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines