This is a guest post by Akiva
There was a massive peaceful protest in Jerusalem on Thursday as 68 ultra-Orthodox parents went to jail for refusing to send their daughters to school. The story was picked up by al-Guardian and even linked by the Drudge Report. However, the articles are spotty on why thousands of Israelis would protest these parents going to jail and many readers could draw the wrong conclusion.
Harriet Sherwood, the Guardian’s new correspondent in Jerusalem, made an error of omission which unfortunately makes these protesting Jews appear racist. She writes in the third paragraph:
“The parents are Ashkenazi, originating from Europe, and are in a long-running battle to have their daughters educated separately from Sephardi girls originating from north Africa and the Middle East.”
Guardian readers can draw the thinly veiled inference that religious Jews are racists. However, Israeli media reports (verified by my contacts there) revealed that among the parents going to jail are the very same Sephardi Jews that the Guardian wants us to think are being discriminated against.
If it wasn’t racism what happened? The school program would only admit girls who adhered to a stringent code of behavior including no television at home and a very modest dress code, regardless of where their ancestors came from. Parents of girls who were turned away petitioned the court, which ordered that they be allowed in regardless of their adherence to the school’s screening policy. Some concerned parents, including both those of European and Sephardi ancestry, pulled their daughters from the school and sought an alternative option. The court, perhaps to prevent embarrassment over its own verdict, ruled the parents were in contempt. The situation is complicated, but the key issue was not discrimination based on where the girls came from but rather parents concerned about the environment their daughters would be educated in being punished by the court.
To her credit Ms. Sherwood does eventually quote some of the protestors as noting their motivation was to protect their daughter’s level of religious observance. However, their statements are qualified with a warning label: “The reason for wanting separate education, the parents claim, is not racism but a desire to remove their daughters from the influence of those they consider less strict in their religious observance.” Good catch, but the article had already implied their motives are racist, without any qualification whatsoever, in the third paragraph.
Lastly, I wonder why Ms. Sherwood notes repeatedly there was a police presence, and that “police helicopters throbbed over the mass of black-hatted demonstrators”, but never mentions that the protest was totally peaceful.