11 arrested as ultra-Orthodox protest arrest of army draft dodger

Hundreds block Jerusalem’s Bar Ilan Street, in latest round of clashes with police

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men block a road during a protest against the jailing of a Jewish seminary student who failed to comply with an army recruitment order, Jerusalem December 8, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men block a road during a protest against the jailing of a Jewish seminary student who failed to comply with an army recruitment order, Jerusalem December 8, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men demonstrated in Jerusalem Sunday against the arrest of an army draft-dodging member of their community who was detained at the airport as he tried to leave the country for a trip to Poland.

Eleven protesters were arrested as they blocked Bar Ilan Street, a major thoroughfare in the capital. One of those detained was arrested as he attempted to set a garbage bin alight, police said.

The demonstration was called by the extremist Jerusalem Faction, a group that has led protests against the draft of ultra-Orthodox community members into the army. It was organized in support of ultra-Orthodox seminary student Yehuda Tombek, who did not file paperwork for a deferment of his compulsory army service, and was arrested last week at Ben Gurion Airport, as he was preparing to fly to Poland on a tour of rabbis’ graves.

The Jaffa Military Court on Sunday extended Tombek’s arrest by two months.

The ultra-Orthodox community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army in favor of religious seminary studies, and many in the community shun military service, which is mandatory for other Jewish Israelis. However, there is opposition to the arrangement from many in the broader population who want the ultra-Orthodox to help shoulder the burden of defending the country.

Extremist ultra-Orthodox factions that shun the State of Israel and deny the state’s authority prevent their members from even showing up at the draft office to receive a deferral, rendering them deserters.

Israel’s current political deadlock can be traced back to political wrangling over the enlistment of yeshiva students. In May, less than two months after voters appeared to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a mandate to form a new government, coalition talks collapsed.

The sticking point was a draft law obligating ultra-Orthodox men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military draft. Ultra-Orthodox parties wanted to soften the text of the law, while Avigdor Liberman and his secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu insisted he would not join the government unless the law were passed in its current form.

The Defense Ministry-drafted bill being debated would have set minimum yearly targets for ultra-Orthodox conscription that, if not met, would trigger financial sanctions on the yeshivas where the students study. At the same time, it would also formalize exemptions for the vast majority of yeshiva students.

Last week, the Israel Defense Forces announced it had launched an investigation into the years-long inflation of enlistment numbers of ultra-Orthodox soldiers, following a report on the matter by the Kan broadcaster.

According to the exposé, over the course of several years, the IDF published false numbers on the number of people joining the army from the ultra-Orthodox population, sometimes doubling or tripling the actual figures, making it seem as though the military was closer to meeting the quotas set by law than it was.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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