Mass haredi protest blocks traffic arteries in Israel. .
(photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
More than 1,000 ultra-Orthodox protesters from the extremist Jerusalem Faction group of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach blocked traffic in the capital and other cities across the country on Thursday, in a “day of rage” they declared to protest the arrests of two yeshiva students who evaded the draft.
The protesters, all male, shut down the major intersection near the central bus station in Jerusalem and held demonstrations in Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh and Safed. They sat in the streets, chanting, “We would rather go to jail than the army” and singing a song from the Passover Haggada about how in each generation someone tries to destroy the Jewish people but God saves it.
“We won’t accept innocent people being thrown in jail,” said Rabbi David Zikerman, a spokesman for Auerbach’s group.
The yeshiva students who were arrested had been granted deferments from IDF service but refused to visit an IDF induction center to initiate the process of receiving the deferments. Zikerman said that going to the induction center would mean recognizing the authorities and quotas for drafting yeshiva students, things that his group cannot accept.
The police were ordered by their commanders to not evacuate any of the protesters by force. The 120 protesters who were arrested had blocked the Jerusalem Light Rail and took other extreme measures. Nonetheless, the Jerusalem Faction accused the police of acting violently toward its members.
“We express outrage at the police violence and praise the arrested boys and the hundreds of haredim who stood up to the unrestrained brutality of the authorities,” the group said. “We call upon the public to join the protest against the violent police and authorities that are intoxicated by their own power.”
Citizens who were stuck in traffic for hours due to the protesters shouted at them. One called the demonstrators “parasites” and “wild beasts.” The protesters responded by saying they would get into heaven but their accusers would not.
Signs saying, “Enough secular coercion” and declaring a “religious war” were held by protesters.
Demonstrators said they were inspired by the success of recent protests by people with disabilities who blocked roads to raise awareness of low welfare allotments. Those payments were ultimately raised due to pressure from the demonstrations.
“It worked for the handicapped, so it should work for us who are handicapped by the need of our souls to study Torah,” said protester Benzion Cohen. “If our demonstrations continue, watch, and you will see that there will be no more arrests of yeshiva students. They will not have to go to the army, which does not take care of our religious needs.”
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria called upon the protesters to stop demonstrating and making Jerusalemites suffer. She said the demonstrators were wrongly giving a bad name to all haredim.