Another yeshiva student associated with a hardline haredi political splinter group has been arrested by military police for failing to report for military service, with experts estimating that the number of such haredi youths could be over 600 individuals.
According to the Committee for Saving the Torah World, an organization that provides legal aid, Yinon Avitan, 21, was arrested by military police at his home in Jerusalem early Monday morning.
Avitan studies at the Reishit Hochma Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev community and was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment by a military court. He is currently being held at the IDF Prison Six close to Haifa.
Avitan is the latest in a series of arrests conducted against haredi yeshiva students refusing to present themselves to IDF Recruitment Offices when called to do so.
Eliyahu Cohen, who was arrested for a third time two weeks ago, is still in military prison.
The Committee for Saving the Torah World said on Wednesday that the arrests “prove without doubt that the goal of the army is not [to be] ‘the Defense Forces of Israel,’ but rather to spiritually destroy the haredi community, and it continues to dedicate considerable resources to achieve this goal.”
The students in question belong to yeshivas associated with the Jerusalem Faction, a group led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, 83, which has taken a more stringent line against IDF service than the mainstream haredi leadership.
The arrests have sparked serious rioting in the past by members of the haredi public loyal to the Jerusalem Faction, usually youths.
Auerbach has, however, reportedly forbidden yeshiva students from going out to protest in the month of Elul that has just begun because of the need to study and pray devotedly in the month before the High Holy Days.
The established rabbinical leadership of the haredi non-hassidic and hassidic communities has instructed yeshiva students to present themselves for preliminary processing upon receiving instructions to do so by the IDF, which all Israeli youths receive at around age 17.
The terms of the new law for haredi conscription, which passed in March this year, allow a yeshiva student aged 22 and over to receive a full exemption; permit a yeshiva student who was 18 and over when the law was passed to defer his service until the age of 24 and then receive an exemption; and require anyone under the age of 18 when the law was passed to perform full military service but allows them to defer their service for a maximum of three years.
Despite the deferrals and exemptions available, Auerbach and the Jerusalem Faction have told yeshiva students studying at yeshivas associated with the group not to present themselves at all to IDF Recruitment Offices.
By refusing to report, they are categorized by the IDF as deserters and liable to arrest by military police.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office said it would not make public the precise number of how many people are currently considered deserters, due to the sensitivity of the issue.
According to one estimate however, it is possible that in the 17-year-old age bracket alone there could be as many as 600 yeshiva students who have not reported to IDF Recruitment Offices on the instructions of their yeshiva deans.
Dr. Haim Zicherman, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute’s Religion and State Project, called the situation a civil rebellion that needed to be resolved.
“There is a large group of people which is intentionally breaking the law in a systematic way,” said Zicherman.
He said however that the IDF needed to help resolve the problem by allowing those who have previously refused to present themselves at IDF offices to subsequently do so without being arrested, as is currently the case.
According to Zicherman, the leadership of the Jerusalem Faction has put its followers in a difficult situation since the young yeshiva students are constantly liable to arrest by the civilian or military police.
If someone who is considered a deserter by the IDF is stopped by the police for any matter, then it is likely that checks conducted by the police will reveal the man’s legal situation with the army and he will be arrested and handed over to the military police.
The majority of yeshiva students who have been arrested in the last 18 months for being deserters have come about due to such circumstances.
Avitan, however, was unusually arrested by military police at his parents’ home, but the IDF is not as a matter of course seeking out such people.
Zicherman believes this situation is untenable and that a loosening of the procedures by the army would lead most yeshiva students associated with the Jerusalem Faction to eventually report for preliminary processing.
“They can’t leave [the] country, they’re afraid to go to their homes, they can’t get a drivers license, they’re permanent criminals at the moment,” said Zicherman, adding that a negotiated solution with the IDF that allowed the Jerusalem Faction leadership to save face in some way while allowing students to report for preliminary processing would resolve the problem.