Conflict & Justice

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem against military draft

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An Orthodox Jew looks on as thousands of others gather in front of the main army recruitment office in Jerusalem on May 16, 2013 to demonstrate against any plans to make them undergo military service, a police spokesman said.

Credit:

MARCO LONGARI

JERUSALEM — Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are feeling very, very threatened — as well they should be.

This is the first government in Israeli history that has proposed significantly altering the "status quo" — an arrangement achieved by the state's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, with the leadership of the shards of ultra-Orthodox Jewry that survived the Holocaust.

That pact has changed drastically over the past 65 years, and the majority of secular Israelis is no longer prepared to fund the educations of ultra-Orthodox men who choose study over work, and who often have families with more than 10 children.

The majority no longer supports ultra-Orthodox exemptions from military draft, and the coalition government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to reform that tradition under pressure from the larger Israeli population and a recent court ruling.

Last February the nation’s Supreme Court ruled Tal Law, which exempted ultra-Orthodox Jews from civil service, unconstitutional.

In reaction to the pressure, religious leaders called Thursday’s mass demonstration. An estimated 30,000 ultra-Orthodox men dressed in traditional black cloaks marched on the Israeli Defense Forces recruitment center.

The demonstration, which resulted in about a dozen injuries, was striking for its violence — an indication of the desperation and alienation many of these young men feel.

Protesters and police officers traded stones and flash grenades. Some demonstrators lit garbage cans on fire. Eight protesters face charges today.

Minister of Interior Security Yitzhak Aharonovich said he found the event "appalling and shocking" and said the rock-throwers and those who assaulted police officers are "criminals who will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law."

“The army is not a place for Torah students,” 17-year-old Aryeh student told Ynetnews.com. “What is happening here will lead all those taking part in the protest to refuse enlistment.”

The Eda Hahredit, the most radical of ultra-Orthodox factions, organized the protests, Ynetnews said.

“The government wants to uproot [our traditions] and secularize us,” Rabbi David Zycherman told Reuters. “They call it a melting pot, but people cannot be melted. You cannot change our [way of life].”

Israelis must serve two or three years in the military when they turn 18; however, ultra-Orthodox Jews are often exempted on religious grounds.

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