Massive religious protest in Israel ends quietly

09:26, June 18, 2010      

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Masses of ultra-Orthodox Jews and supporters held what they dubbed the "mother of all protests" in Jerusalem and largely religious city of Bnei Brak on Thursday against an Israeli High Court ruling against segregated schooling.

Several dozen strictly observant families, from the Ashkenazi ( European) Slonim Hassidic sect in the northern West Bank city of Emmanuel, had refused an earlier court order forcing them to send their daughters to classes with girls of Sephardi (Middle Eastern) descent.

The parents contended that they could not accept what they viewed as differing levels of religious observance and traditions between the two groups.

Police, who were on high alert against possible riots, estimated that upwards of 50,000 protestors gathered at several locations in Jerusalem and in the largely orthodox Bnei Brak on Thursday. The demonstrators were opposed to a High Court decision earlier in the week to imprison more than 40 families over their refusal to send their daughters to the ethnically mixed religious school.

Source: Xinhua

Organizers said more than 100,000 people took part in the events.

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday morning met with the deputy education minister, who represents an ultra-Orthodox religious party, and reportedly asked for a presidential pardon for the parents.

Hired buses ferried the families from Emmanuel to Jerusalem's Russian Compound lockup downtown by late afternoon. Streets were closed and traffic snarled throughout the city, as tens of thousands of protestors gathered outside the British Mandate-era jail, and overflowed onto streets of the nearby religious neighborhoods.

The parents are to begin a two-week jail sentence for contempt of court, which may be extended, according to a police spokesman.

The High court judge who headed the panel that made the ruling, wrote, "No ruling of a court in general, or the High Court in particular, requires the authorization of any person, not even halakhic (Jewish law) authority," the local Ha'aretz newspaper said.


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