Haredi extremists staged fierce demonstrations on Tuesday night against the arrest and detention of a yeshiva student charged with draft-dodging, during which 48 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic, disturbing the public order and attacking policemen.
Three policemen were wounded by stone throwing and other violence.
The demonstrations, which were held in several places, saw hundreds of protesters attempt to block central traffic routes and clash with police in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in and Bnei Brak.
In response to the riots, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he had asked his Yisrael Beytenu party colleague MK Oded Forer to work in the Knesset to cut off state funding for two yeshivas headed by Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the radical Jerusalem Faction which split off from the mainstream non-hassidic, haredi political stream in 2012.
Liberman said he had also instructed officials in the ministry to examine the option of annulling the arrangements for students at those yeshivas to defer their military service.
In a statement to the press, Liberman said that he would “not allow such wildness to pass,” and neither would he tolerate the ongoing incitement by ultra-Orthodox extremists against haredi men who enlist to the IDF.
“The purpose of these riots which defy enlistment to the IDF and come to undermine the state’s authority to draft people to the army is totally unacceptable, and we will not allow such a phenomenon to take hold, including those threats against those who do want to enlist,” said Liberman.
“We will work within the Defense Ministry and other government ministries to ensure that those who take part in this ongoing incitement do not gain any leniencies, benefits or cooperation,” said the minister.
The ultra-Orthodox community, which has historically been exempt from military service, has held regular demonstrations against the draft.
The yeshiva student who generated the protests on Tuesday was arrested during an earlier demonstration and then discovered to be a draft-dodger.
The police released a statement saying protesting “is a democratic right and the Israel Police will allow it, but disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace is a criminal offense,” and that they “would act with determination against any incident that disturbs the peace and causes danger to individuals who use the roads.”
The protest was organized by supporters of Auerbach.
The Jerusalem Faction is stridently opposed to IDF enlistment for haredi yeshiva students, and instructs students associated with it not to report to enlistment offices after receiving their conscription papers.
Failing to report to IDF enlistment offices when called to do renders one a deserter and liable to arrest by the Military Police.
Yeshiva students associated with the mainstream haredi political factions who do not want to perform military service do report for preliminary processing, and subsequently receive ongoing military service deferrals until they reach the age of exemption.
Before a law for haredi conscription was approved by the last government in March 2014, all haredi yeshiva students wishing to avoid military service would report for preliminary processing.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Haim Epstein of the Bnei Torah political party, which represents the Jerusalem Faction, said that although the current law allows yeshiva students to avoid service, the quotas from the conscription law remain part of the current law, a situation he said was unacceptable.
Technically, should those quotas not be met, all haredi yeshiva students would be required by the law to enlist. In practice this would not happen since the law also allows the defense minister to exempt any number of yeshiva students without specific criteria governing his decision, and the haredi political parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – would insist that such exemptions are granted.
“This part of the law hasn’t been repealed and is much more dangerous than the previous law,” Epstein told The Jerusalem Post in reference to the quotas.
“It’s an awful trick, it’s unethical and it’s inhumane,” he said. “Why should the fate of yeshiva students be in the hands of the defense minister, why should he have the power over which student can go to yeshiva and which cannot, who can live and who can die, it’s unthinkable.”
The deputy mayor argued that the conscript model of the IDF was no longer necessary and that a professional army should be established instead.
Epstein said when he had visited one of the protests he had not seen any violence, and that the haredi demonstrators were “the most polite protesters in the country,” who would not break the law.
“Setting fire to trash receptacles disgusts me,” he said. “I am against all violence. We condemn the use of violence, and we do not lift our hands against anyone.”
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