Ultra-Orthodox Parents Evading Jail-time in Segregated School Row to Spend Shabbat at Home

Israel Police seeking arrest for 22 mothers and two fathers who failed to show up for two-week jail sentence, after being charged with illegally segregating their Ashkenazi daughters from Sephardi classmates.

The High Court of Justice decided Friday to postpone its deliberations regarding the 24 ultra-Orthodox parents  who failed to arrive for their two-week jail sentencing, after being charged with ignoring a High Court of Justice order to send their daughters to school with girls of Middle Eastern origin.

The deliberations will now be held on Sunday morning, despite the Israel Police's attempt to seek arrest warrants for those evading jail time.

Thirty-five men, fathers to the Ashkenazi girls attending an illegally segregated school in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, arrived at the Ma'asiyahu prison earlier Thursday evening to serve a two-week sentence.

But two other fathers and 22 mothers also sentenced failed to show at the Jerusalem police headquarters as ordered by the court.

The parents of Ashkenazi (European) descent at the all girls' school have refused to let their daughters study with classmates of Middle Easten and North African descent, known as Sephardim.

The Ashkenazi parents insist that they are not racist, but want to keep the classrooms segregated - as they have been for years - on the grounds that the Sephardi families of are not religious enough.

The Supreme Court has rejected that argument and ruled that the 43 sets of parents who  defied the integration efforts by keeping their daughters from school were to be jailed. The parents were required to either return their daughters to school and refrain from discrimination, or face jail time.

The court has permitted the parents to defer the jail term of one of the parents until the other parent completes their term so that their children will not remain unsupervised. The court has also exempted the mothers of children with special needs. The prison term of one mother, who signed an agreement to comply with the court's ruling, has been overturned.

A father enters jail for ignoring a court ruling on segregated schools, Jerusalem, June 18, 2010
Daniel Bar-On

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox protesters were waiting for the fathers at the prison as they were brought for sentencing, holding a prayer session and singing songs while the bus entered the prison gates.

100,000 Haredim protest for right to segregated education

More than 100,000 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators thronged the streets of Jerusalem earlier Thursday in support of the Ashkenazi parents' right to keep their children in classes segregated from their Sephardi peers. It was one of the largest ultra-Orthodox demonstrations in recent years.

Israel Police Commissioner David Cohen welcomed the peaceful mass demonstration,  telling officers at a meeting aimed at evaluating the situation: "The ultra-Orthodox public and its leaders have proven, thus far, that it is possible to protest while abiding by the law."

"I hope that the restraint that we saw today will characterize all of the confrontations between the police and the haredi public, and other groups, of which we've had quite of few late," he added.

When the parents arrived at the police headquarters in Jerusalem's Russian Compound earlier Thursday, one of the fathers declared: "I am going to jail with great excitement and joy over the support we've received... We are making sure our children get the best education possible."

When asked what will become of his children while he is jail, the father said: "We have gotten calls from friends we forgot existed in recent days. Everyone had offered to take care of our children while we are serving our terms. The people of Israel are beginning to understand that even though we are different, we are not so bad. We're not racist." 

During their day-long protest, the ultra-Orthodox demonstrators snarled traffic in Jerusalem and in the city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, crowding onto balconies in city squares, waving posters decrying the court's decision and proclaiming the supremacy of religious law.

Some of the Ashkenazi protesters attempted during the rally to attack Sephardi Rabbi Ya'akov Yosef, son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and a leading figure against the discrimination. Yosef's students managed to guard their teacher, who had also been subject to an attempted attack during protests on Wednesday evening.

The protest in Bnei Brak began at 1 P.M. and ended just before 3 P.M. The protesters then began accompanying the bus that would bring the parents to the police headquarters in Jerusalem, to join forces with the thousands of people rallying there.

Dozens of the pro-segregation parents were to stand on the pedestrian bridge over Jerusalem's Bar Ilan Street wearing signs saying "prisoner sanctifying the name of heaven." Police had issued permits for 20,000 people to demonstrate in Jerusalem.

Heads of yeshivas and schools were urged by leading Ashkenazi rabbis to cancel classes Thursday so students could attend the protest.

A leading spokesman of Israel's modern Orthodox stream on Thursday urged religious Zionists not to take part in the mass protests, regardless of the political price they may pay in the future for refusing to support the movement.

"I cannot take part in the racism and discrimination that is taking place, which is just the tip of the iceberg," said Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, who heads the joint army-yeshiva program in Petah Tikva.

Religious Zionism must "return to its historic role" and bring both sides to a compromise. "It's impossible to claim that this is Jewish law or that it is sanctifying the name of God," he said.