Hundreds of haredi men belonging to the extremist Jerusalem Faction group have taken to the streets of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem once again to protest several relatively lengthy jail sentences by a military court against several yeshiva students who have illegally evaded IDF service.
The protestors blocked major roads and junctions in both cities, bringing traffic to a halt intermittently.
The police are continuing efforts to remove the protestors from these roads, and have arrested at least 20 men so far in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.
Extremists in Beit Shemesh also succeeded in shutting down some roads in the city.
“Thousands of yeshiva students are on their way to traffic arteries around the country with clear intent to sanctify the name of Heaven and be imprisoned for a lengthy period of time,” the Jerusalem Faction said in a statement to the press before the protests began.
“Nothing will break their courageous spirit in their struggle against the decree of enlistment of yeshiva students.”
The Jaffa Military Court
sentenced 11 yeshiva students who failed to undertake the necessary bureaucratic process required to obtain an IDF service exemption to sentences of up to 90 days in prison.
These sentences were much higher than have been seen in the past and are possibly an attempt to curb the phenomenon of yeshiva students who fail to apply for their exemption in the correct manner.
The Jerusalem Faction and its leader Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach have instructed yeshiva students associated with it not to cooperate in any way with the IDF or the Defense Ministry, leading to a situation in which hundreds of its students are now technically absent without leave and liable to arrest by military police.
Mainstream Haredi yeshiva students do perform the requisite bureaucratic procedures to obtain their exemptions and anyone so doing is promptly given their exemption.
The stance of the Jerusalem Faction and its leadership is for the most part a tactic in the internal political divisions within the Ashkenazi Haredi non-Hassidic community, in which Auerbach lost a leadership battle with the current head of this community Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman in 2012 after the death of the previous leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
Its more hard-line stance of not cooperating with the IDF and Defense Ministry has helped the Jerusalem Faction carve out a political block and given itself a specific identity around the rallying cry of fighting the state’s efforts to draft more Haredi men into the army.
Claims by Auerbach and the heads of the Jerusalem Faction that Haredi men are being coercively drafted into the army are, however, fallacious, and haredi yeshiva students applying for an exemptions continue to receive them without hindrance.