Religious anti-draft protests turn violent in Jerusalem, 38 arrested

The protests led to a massive shut down of public transportation in the city following the arrest of a ultra-Orthodox youth.

Police using water cannon to curb Haredi protests in Jerusalem  (photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Police using water cannon to curb Haredi protests in Jerusalem
(photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Hundreds of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) protesters confronted police in Jerusalem on Sunday and caused a massive shut down of public transportation after they demonstrated against the arrest of a young Ethiopian haredi man who refused to enlist in the IDF.
A police spokesperson reported that 38 men had been arrested at the protest. Police employed water cannons and mounted police to restore order.
Some haredi Jews – the name literally translating to "those who tremble" before God – don’t accept Zionist ideology and believe that to keep their unique Torah-based way of life, they must keep distance between themselves and the modern world.
As a result, many believe that drafting haredim to the IDF is damaging their unique way of life.
In Israel, despite a mandatory military service law, some ultra-Orthodox get a waiver, so they may learn Torah rather than serve. However, many non-haredi Jewish Israelis feel that the burden of military service is not shared fairly among all groups in Israeli society and have called for meaningful changes in the current system.

"The Israeli government wants to limit and slowly, slowly at some point... completely stop the Orthodox boys who study in yeshiva... so we're fighting in full force," one protester explained to The Jerusalem Post at the scene.
"Our rabbi who passed away about two years ago said any time a yeshiva boy is arrested, we come out to protest full force."
While he acknowledged that there is a threat, when asked if the haredi community has an obligation to serve as well, the protestor answered "zero."
"We will take zero part. All our leaders since 1940 all agree that the Israeli Zionist government is against Orthodox Judaism, but the only argument is how to fight it. Some said to go to the Knesset and fight from there, other said to go from the outside and fight from there. And the second they stop us from learning, we will fight them full force."
Despite the controversy and backlash towards drafting haredim, there are already hundreds of haredim serving in the army, with the IDF having created various structures to allow them to serve and maintain their faith.
"[The haredim serving in the army need to] stop right now, take off their clothes," the protester explained to the Post. "They should rather go to jail or jump off a roof or go to Auschwitz. The entire orthodox group who's warming the heart will go to Auschwitz singing and dancing should one boy go to the army."
Another protester named Menachem Englender confirmed the story.
"A Yeshiva Boucher [male student] around 20 years old was arrested," he said. "He didn't go [to the army] because his rabbis told him not to go to the army, so they took him to prison.
"We came here to help him, to show him and his family that he's not by himself and not alone."
Another protester, identifying only as Moshe, claimed to the Post that this is part of the state's efforts to homogenize the various demographics in the country.
"Every army in the world today wants to fight the enemy and defeat them," he explained. "The Israeli army has another purpose – they want to make all people Israeli. They want to take the haredi, the European Jews, the Russian Jews and to make them into Israelis.
"Recently, they cut down how many years soldiers need to serve, because they have too many people, but they have an agenda to change society and make everyone Israeli.
"We believe that if we go to the army, our level in serving God will fall."

Another reason the protest was so important, Moshe claimed, was because it was the first time someone was arrested in their home for refusing to serve in the army.
"It used to be that the police would stop someone, look at their files on the computer and would see that he didn't go to the army," he explained. "But this is the first time that they went to his house to take him.
"It's very interesting that the first time this happened was with someone Ethiopian... They [the state] try to start with someone Ethiopian who has no backing and support, and that's how they start [their efforts to change them], and this is why we fight for all Jews who want to stay haredi – Ethiopian, Sephardi, Baalei Tshuva."
According to a statement released by the Bnei Torah political party, the haredi arrested by the IDF was Gamliel Madhani, an Ethiopian-Israeli from Or Yehuda.
"The tremendous protest that will take place in the Holy City of Jerusalem will once again prove that no force in the world will overpower the fighting spirit of ultra-Orthodox Judaism against the extermination of the Yeshiva's mobilization," the statement said.
"Do not dare change the ultra-Orthodox public, because we will stand as a wall in a way and give up our lives."
However, not all religious Israelis agree with these views.
"This protest is a farce," Yehuda Broderick – a religious Jew who was stuck in the Central Bus Station due to the traffic delays – told the Post.
Broderick, who served in the IDF, said that all the protest would do "is increase anti-haredi sentiment... [the protest] massively inconveniences everyone else (including other haredim), and potentially endangers people who need to get to a hospital in an emergency."
The protest caused busses to be stuck at the Central Bus Station for hours, and cut off traffic to and from the station on both busses and the light rail.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.