Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men staged protests across Jerusalem and Bnei Brak on Wednesday after a call to demonstrate was put out by the extremist Jerusalem Faction, stopping traffic on major roads following the arrest of a young ultra-Orthodox man after he failed to show up to his call-up on Tuesday. He has since been released from military prison.
The protests come at a tense time amid the dialogue surrounding the draft law, with a new version of it, The Conscription Law, sparking controversy within the government, with ultra-Orthodox parties threatening to dissolve the coalition if it is not passed immediately following the Knesset’s summer break, scheduled to end after the High Holy Days in October.
In Jerusalem, protesters held up numerous signs at the demonstration. One read “A Holocaust is preferable to recruiting yeshiva students.” Another protester told Maariv “I’d rather get shot than enlist.”
Some of the rioters cursed the policemen, called them “Nazis,” spat at them, laid down under the police cars, and tried to sabotage their vehicles. One rioter punched a female officer in the chest and kicked another officer. The rioter was arrested and taken under police questioning. Another two arrests have already been made by police at the demonstration for disorderly conduct.
Police stated that protesters blocked the intersection of Sha’arei Yisrael Street and Nordau Street, blocking both the light rail and the intersection to traffic. The road has since reopened to traffic. Approximately 200 protesters were at the scene, according to Walla.
Israel Police officers contained the protest, eventually opening up the road to traffic after two hours. Physical altercations did take place, police said, with one female Border Police officer getting punched in the chest, while another was kicked. The man was taken for further investigation, joining two others who were detained.
Israel arrests yeshiva student for draft dodging, extremists to protest
A student at the Ponevezh Yeshiva, the man was arrested on his way to Meron. The Jerusalem Faction expressed outrage at the “criminal conscription law which has drafted yeshiva students into the army.”
“The Torah world will come out en masse to protest and cry ‘oppression’ for the souls of young Israelis who are languishing in the terrible frameworks of the army as a result of the criminal conscription law. And as our great Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach instructed us: ‘To shake the entire world about the arrest of the prisoners of the Torah world who do not report to the conscription offices.’”
The Committee for the Salvation of the Torah World insisted that it would continue not to show up at draft offices and blamed ultra-Orthodox MKs for the law requiring yeshiva students to show up at draft offices.
According to Israeli law, haredi yeshiva students can receive a de-facto exemption from military service by signing a declaration at a draft office stating Torato Umanuto (“Torah study is his occupation”). The mechanism grants yeshiva students a deferral of their service, which is renewed until they pass the age of conscription and are no longer required to serve.
The arrangement legally requires those using this mechanism to almost exclusively spend their days studying in yeshiva, although the State Comptroller and activists pushing for equal conscription requirements have complained of poor and ineffective enforcement of the law.
The mechanism was established in its first form under an agreement between ultra-Orthodox leaders and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, with about 400 students using the mechanism at the time. The number of students using the arrangement to avoid military service has since spiked to tens of thousands.
In recent weeks, the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition have issued threats to topple the government if legislation granting a blanket exemption from military conscription for yeshiva students is not passed first thing after the Knesset reconvenes in its winter session in October.
The parties have also demanded that any such legislation be “immunized” against judicial review.