JERUSALEM, June 18 (JMCC) - Over 100,000 religious orthodox Jews took part in a protest in Jerusalem
on Wednesday against an Israeli court decision that, they argue, suppresses their religious rights.
Scripture leaflets cascaded from balconies and Psalm 121 washed through the crowd. The Torah decides read the slogans on the banners.
The protest came in reaction to the Israeli high court's decision leveling a two-week prison sentence against Ashkenazi (European origin) parents from the settlement
who want to segregate their children from Sephardi peers in school.
“This is the only country in the world where you don’t have the freedom to send your children to the school that you want,” one woman angrily told JMCC.org.
The demonstrators deny that they are seeking a discriminatory policy towards Sephardic Jews. They say that they are protecting their children from the influence of different religious practice. “We came together to protest against anyone going against our religion, not to create a divide with Sephardis,” says Hannah, a mother at the protest.
Tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews occasionally rise to the surface in Israel
, where Jews from Arab countries have charged the state with discrimination.
Thursday's protest was in support of 43 parents who have been ordered to report to the Jerusalem police station for detention. Dressed in their Shabbat clothes, the parents progressed through the throngs of supporters.
Donning his heavy Russian hat and black suit, Rabbi Nahon Reiswitz accompanied his son to the prison. “The court is forcing us to be religious,” he said.
Although the mass protest was the first of its size, tensions between the religious orthodox community and the Israeli government have been mounting for a long time. “The school is not the point,” says Yishuv student Moshe. “The government does not even try to understand our religion and our feelings”.
“We cannot express our religion, the government keeps pushing us down,” says Hannah.
Police spokesperson Mickey Rosenthal confirms that “there have been increasing tension resulting from a series of unpopular government actions.
Across the country in recent weeks, religious orthodox communities have taken to the streets, sometimes violently, against government decisions to build a hospital on the site of graves with possible religious significance, and that of the Jerusalem municipality to open a car park on the Sabbath.
THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION
Further, resentment exists in the community at what they consider to be preferential treatment of the Palestinians.
“[The government] takes care of the Palestinians better than they take care of us. That is what everyone thinks, and the newspapers say it too,” Moshe told JMCC.org emphatically.
While few were able to say why, this opinion was widespread through the crowd.
“Of course this is true, I can’t tell you why, I am not into politics but we feel it,” said a Sephardi protester. “You try to keep your country safe and [the government] treat the Arabs better than us!”
“When [Palestinians] riot, they treat them with silk gloves,” agrees Hannah.
It is estimated that 25 percent of Israel’s population -- around 800,000 people -- are orthodox Jews.