Water-canon spray hits ultra-orthodox protesters during demonstrations in the capital yesterday. .
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Hundreds of haredi men and youths from the extremist Jerusalem Faction took to the streets again on Monday to block major roads and traffic arteries in Jerusalem, in continued protest over the arrest of several dozen yeshiva students in recent weeks.
The demonstrators spread out to several locations, including Haim Bar Lev Street. They staged a demonstration outside the Knesset before moving on to block Route 1 at the entrance to Jerusalem near the Bridge of Strings, blocking the light rail and vehicular traffic for several hours and snarling up roads all around the capital during rush hour.
Police and border guards arrived only half an hour after the disturbance began at the Bridge of Strings. They used a water canon to spray foul smelling water at protesters, the first time the liquid has been used in such demonstrations.
The tactic did not faze the protesters however, some of whom immediately sat down in front of the vehicle carrying the canon, preventing it from moving. Hundreds of other demonstrators were poised to take their places when the police hauled some of them away.
Instructions were eventually sent out at 6:30 p.m. over the Jerusalem Faction’s telephone hotlines for the protesters to disperse, and only then were the roads and junctions they had blocked open to traffic again.
According to the police, 11 protesters were arrested for various offenses during the course of the protests.
Some 45 yeshiva students associated with the Jerusalem Faction are currently being held in military prison for failing to perform the necessary bureaucratic procedures to obtain their military service exemptions.
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 (AWOL) and liable to arrest by military police.
Mainstream haredi yeshiva students do perform the required bureaucratic procedures to obtain their exemptions, and anyone so doing is promptly given an exemption.
The strategy of the Jerusalem Faction and its leadership is for the most part a tactic in the political struggle within the Ashkenazi haredi non-hassidic community. Auerbach lost a leadership battle in 2012 with the current head of this community, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, after the death of the previous leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
The faction’s hardline stance of not cooperating with the IDF and the Defense Ministry has helped them carve out a political bloc and achieve a specific identity around the rallying cry of fighting the state’s efforts to draft more haredi men into the army.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
on Monday, numerous demonstrators erroneously claimed that the exemptions were not available to everyone, and that numerous “weaker” yeshiva students are threatened, coerced, and pressured into enlisting against their will by IDF recruiters.
They incorrectly claimed that the enlistment targets set out in the 2014 haredi conscription law, amended by the current government in 2015, were legally binding and that they would not avail themselves of the exemption available to them if other draftees could not also receive it.
One protester refused to acknowledge that the ultra-orthodox men currently serving in the IDF volunteered to serve, saying that they had simply not been strong enough to stand up to the pressure, and that he and the other protesters were demonstrating on behalf of such people and the right of all haredi men to study in yeshiva without hindrance.
“If we allow the weak to be drafted, then targets will go higher and higher,” said another demonstrator.
“The goal of these laws is to get to full draft equality – meaning to draft all haredi men – which would be the death of the yeshiva world,” he insisted.