Video courtesy Kobi Schutz/Shtieble.net
Several thousand ultra-Orthodox men rioted and protested across Israel on Thursday following the arrest of a yeshiva student a day earlier for failing to present himself at an IDF enlistment office.
Violent scenes unfolded in several locations, with the police deploying water cannons, mounted officers and riot police to disperse agitators and prevent major traffic arteries from being blocked.
The protesters were also demonstrating against the High Court of Justice’s decision this week to halt the state’s payments of stipends to several thousand full-time yeshiva students, and against legislation being forged to compel haredim to serve either in the army or in civilian positions.
Leaders of the hard-line Jerusalem Faction, a haredi grouping opposed to any cooperation or compromise on the issue of enlistment, called the demonstrations.
Protesters gathered at major traffic intersections at the entrances to Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Ashdod and Modi’in Illit in order to stop traffic. In addition, large numbers of rioters fought with the police in several locations.
Police arrested a total of 34 protesters around the country.
Three officers were wounded, one due to a stone a rioter threw at him.
In Jerusalem, underneath the Bridge of Strings at the entrance to the city, haredim tried to block traffic. Police dispersed the protesters using water cannons and arrested 12 protesters for disturbing the peace.
At the Coca-Cola junction on Route 4 near Bnei Brak, some 2,000 haredim demonstrated; police arrested three of them, and one officer was injured.
Southbound traffic on Route 4 was blocked for a while in the Petah Tikva area. Police later reopened the roadway, but traffic remained heavy.
Thirteen protesters were arrested at the entrance to Ashdod for disturbing public order and assaulting police, and two officers were wounded. Later, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside a police station in the city and set fire to a patrol vehicle.
Demonstrations also took place outside Beit Shemesh and Modi’in Illit.
The yeshiva student who was arrested on Wednesday, Yitzhak Zer, is from Ashdod. He was taken to the IDF’s Prison Six near Haifa.
Zer, 18, is associated with the Jerusalem Faction that has taken a more militant line against enlistment to the army than the mainstream ultra-Orthodox leadership.
The faction, led by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, instructs yeshiva students loyal to it not to present themselves at IDF enlistment offices when they receive call-up orders.
People who fail to report to the enlistment offices when ordered are considered to be deserters and are liable to arrest by the Military Police.
Two haredi youths associated with the Jerusalem Faction were arrested in December for failing to report to enlistment offices.
The mainstream haredi leadership instructs yeshiva students to report to enlistment offices, but not to sign documents. In this way, they are not considered deserters and are not liable to arrest.
The anger of Jerusalem Faction leaders was also stoked when Finance Minister Yair Lapid temporarily cut funding to all yeshivas on Thursday, after discovering that funds were still trickling though to students who refused to serve.
On Tuesday, the High Court ruled that the state should hold back funds from ultra-Orthodox students aged 18-21 who disregarded their draft notices.
That night, Lapid halted funding, but the following day, the Treasury discovered that the funds had continued to make their way to the students.
After an urgent consultation, Lapid ordered that all yeshiva funds be frozen until the Education and Defense ministries could sort out precisely which yeshiva students were meant to be cut off. He said the action was necessary to comply with the High Court’s decisions.
Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi MKs are expected to face off on Monday when voting begins on the bulk of the recommendations of the special Knesset committee on haredi service led by Bayit Yehudi faction head Ayelet Shaked.
The MKs are expected to fight over whether the ultra-Orthodox will face the same criminal sanctions for draft dodging as other Israeli Jews. Yesh Atid intends to insist on equality, but Bayit Yehudi intends to work on a compromise based on financial sanctions.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) insisted that only financial sanctions, and not criminal, were stipulated in the coalition agreement, but that Yesh Atid was building a political campaign based on insisting on criminal sanctions.
He said the best way to formulate the bill was to mandate financial sanctions for an initial stage and then, several years after the law comes into effect, criminal sanctions on draft refusers could be enacted.
But Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman, who is haredi, said the regular law must apply to haredim. He warned that if the law is changed and financial sanctions are adopted, well-off people in Tel Aviv would be allowed to buy their way out of the army.
“Anyone who thinks financial sanctions won’t upset the haredim hasn’t noticed the riots over the funding that is not coming to them,” he said.
Lipman explained that the bill says that by 2017, a total of 10,000 of the 55,000 young haredi men between the ages of 18 and 24 must serve in either the army or national service. But if in 2017 that quota is not met, the regular rules will apply to the haredim, except for exemptions for 1,800 per year.
“Everyone knows that among the 55,000, there are 10,000 who are not learning Torah day and night and therefore do not meet the definition of ‘the Torah being their trade,’ which granted them draft exemptions,” Lipman said. “As long as the haredi leaders tell those 10,000 to go serve, everything will be fine and there will be no reason to fight. It’s a classic example of the haredi leadership not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, to quote [the late foreign minister] Abba Eban [who was speaking about the Palestinians].”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.