18 Jun 2010

Huge education protest by ultra-orthodox Jews

9:48 pm on 18 June 2010

Tens of thousands of ultra-orthodox Jews have staged one of the biggest protests against the state of Israel, demanding that their children be educated separately from other Israelis.

Police say 120,000 Ashkenazi Jews turned out in Jerusalem and near Tel Aviv to support parents who refused to let their girls share classrooms with Jewish pupils of Sephardic or Middle Eastern descent.

The Ashkenazi parents, who are of European descent, want segregated classrooms because, they say, Sephardic families are not religious enough.

The BBC reports that the protests were triggered by a court ruling sentencing 80 Ashkenazi parents - 40 couples - to two weeks' jail for contempt of court.

The families at the centre of the legal battle come from a strictly observant sect of Hasidic Jews called Slonim, who have Ashkenazi lineage.

They have pulled their children out of Beit Yaakov girls' school in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, and set up lessons elsewhere in the area.

The court had given them until Wednesday to send their children back to school, but they refused.