Upping anti-draft protest, ultra-Orthodox threaten to block airport
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Upping anti-draft protest, ultra-Orthodox threaten to block airport

Group behind recent demonstrations against arrest of IDF shirkers says it wants to get attention of 'the whole world'

Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protests in Jerusalem on March 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protests in Jerusalem on March 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An ultra-Orthodox group behind a series of recent protests against the draft threatened on Sunday to block traffic to and from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv in a bid to gain greater attention for its cause.

In an announcement, the group said that it will hold a protest in the area of the airport in order to bring the issue to the attention of “the whole world.”

“Due to the government’s escalation of the harassment of prisoners from the Torah world, it has been decided to expand the protest at this time in order that it will reach the ears of the entire world,” said a statement from the Committee to Save the World of Torah, which has been responsible for organizing many of the recent demonstrations.

The announcement also said that the protest will feature “signs in English and other languages” intended for foreign tourists.

In order that Israelis traveling to the airport won’t miss their flights, the group recommended to the public to “change the time of their flights” or “to arrive early” at the airport, as well as to “follow updates to be announced on the coming days.”

Although the announcement did not say when the planned protest would take place, the group warned that any preemptive action by the police, which they called “hostile preparations,” would lead them to carry out spontaneous protests without prior warning.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews hold placards during a protest against Israeli army conscription, in Jerusalem, on March 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews hold placards during a protest against Israeli army conscription, in Jerusalem, on March 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Last week, thousands of ultra-Orthodox protesters gathered in Jerusalem in the largest protest yet in a series of recent demonstrations over the arrest of members of the community for failing to show up to the Israel Defense Forces draft offices.

The event marked a change in tone following weeks of often violent — albeit much smaller — protests by young men, which included blocking traffic, burning garbage and throwing rocks and objects at police. Tuesday’s protest was much larger and largely peaceful.

The event was organized by the supporters of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the leader of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, who have been protesting the draft for the past few weeks. Unusually the Orthodox Council of Jerusalem — an anti-Zionist extreme faction opposed to any cooperation with the state — joined the protest. Rabbis from both groups spoke from the podium, preaching against the IDF.

Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach (C) speaks during an anti-draft rally in Jerusalem on March 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach (C) speaks during an anti-draft rally in Jerusalem on March 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Although the protest was largely peaceful, video published by Channel 2 showed demonstrators attacking and yelling slurs at a secular woman passing, before she was extracted by Border Police officers.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews represent about 10 percent of the Israeli population and live in compliance with a strict interpretation of Jewish laws.

Some of them view military service as a source of temptation to young adults to leave the closed world of prayer and religious study.

The ultra-Orthodox are exempt if studying in yeshiva religious schools. However, the issue is controversial with secular Israelis, and attempts have been made to do away with the exemption.

Regardless, they must register at the recruitment office, but some — inspired by rabbis hostile to any cooperation with the Israeli authorities — refuse to even go to the office and are considered deserters.

AFP contributed to this report.

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