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State to Court: Don’t Jail Ultra-Orthodox Mothers Violating School Segregation Order

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein advised the High Court of Justice on Wednesday to refrain from enforcing jail sentences for the 22 ultra-Orthodox women charged with violating an order to send their Ashkenazi daughters to school with their Sephardi peers.

The mothers had appealed to the High Court after failing to show up for their two-week jail sentencing on Thursday. The attorney general responded to the appeal by saying he supported the stance of welfare agencies that the women should remain at home with their children.

An ultra-Orthodox father enters jail for ignoring a court ruling on segregated schools, Jerusalem, June 18, 2010

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.

The High Court had been set to deliberate Friday regarding the 22 mothers and two fathers who failed to arrive for sentencing. The hearing has now been postponed to Sunday morning, despite the Israel Police’s efforts to seek these parents’ arrest.

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 and overturned the term of one mother, who signed an agreement to comply with the court’s ruling.

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 segregated classes. It was one of the largest ultra-Orthodox demonstrations in recent years.

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