34 arrested at ultra-Orthodox riot against army draft in Jerusalem

Protesters block road outside IDF recruitment office, throw rocks, eggs at police officers trying to disperse them, injuring 3

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with police during a protest against the arrest of a religious seminary student who failed to comply with a recruitment order, next to the army draft office in Jerusalem, November 28, 2017. (Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with police during a protest against the arrest of a religious seminary student who failed to comply with a recruitment order, next to the army draft office in Jerusalem, November 28, 2017. (Flash90)

Thirty-four ultra-Orthodox demonstrators were arrested Tuesday during violent protests in Jerusalem against the imprisonment of community members who ignored army draft orders.

Demonstrators gathered outside the IDF draft office on Rashi Street in the capital and blocked the entrance to the building, as well as the road outside.

Officers who arrived to disperse the protesters were pelted with rocks, eggs, and other items, leading to three officers being lightly injured, police said.

Cops, including mounted officers, cleared the roadway.

“Police restored public order” after arresting the “rioters,” police said in a statement.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protest outside the IDF recruiting office in Jerusalem, November 28, 2017. (Flash90)

The demonstration came days after a fringe religious group that on Sunday caused mayhem during hours of confrontations with police in Jerusalem.

On Tuesday morning, two other demonstrators were also arrested outside the draft office.

Earlier Tuesday, the Kikar Hashabat ultra-Orthodox news site reported that a young man was hospitalized in moderate to serious condition overnight Monday in Beit Shemesh after falling from a roof while fleeing the Military Police.

Paramedics were called to Aryeh Levin Street in the city following reports that the man, suspected of being an IDF draft-dodger, had jumped from a rooftop while being pursued by the soldiers.

On Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators from the so-called “Jerusalem Faction” group blocked the entrance to Jerusalem and disrupted light rail services in protests against the jailing of young seminary students for draft-dodging. Police used force to try and disperse the protesters, some of whom clashed with angry motorists and resisted attempts by police to remove them. They also used water cannons and a foul-smelling skunk spray.

Police said they had detained 35 “extremists” who refused to clear the road. One demonstrator received medical treatment from police. The main entrance to the city was shut for more than three hours despite police efforts, until the demonstrators headed a call from the head of the faction Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach to return to their yeshivas.

Extremist ultra-Orthodox demonstrators, protesting against the army draft, block the entrance to Jerusalem on November 26, 2017. (Flash90)

Auerbach had announced on Sunday morning that the demonstrators would return to the streets to defend the “dignity of the Torah.”

The statement from the “Committee to Save the Torah World,” which has been responsible for organizing recent demonstrations against the army draft, said that Auerbach had ordered the demonstration “to protest for the dignity of the Torah, which has been ground into dust by the incarceration of 12 prisoners of the Torah world for extended periods.”

Last week, at least 32 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators were arrested in the salvo of demonstrations in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, and Modiin Illit.

The protests were sparked after the Jaffa Military Court on Sunday sentenced 11 ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers to jail sentences ranging from 40 to 90 days. It’s unclear why the committee organizers’ statement referred to 12 such detainees.

At issue is a decades-old debate as to whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshivas, or seminaries, should be called up for compulsory military service, like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population. After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months and women for 24.

At the rabbi’s instruction, Auerbach’s followers refuse to show up to the draft office to apply for a deferral or exemption from the army. Followers of other rabbis do receive the exemptions and are therefore not arrested.

Earlier this year, the High Court of Justice struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined the principle of equality before the law. The decision raises the possibility that they could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with dramatic political and social implications. However, the court suspended its decision for a year to allow for a new arrangement to be put in place, giving the government the option to pass a new law.

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