28 arrested as ultra-Orthodox demonstrate in Bnei Brak against draft
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28 arrested as ultra-Orthodox demonstrate in Bnei Brak against draft

Protesters block central road, demand no changes be made to legislation granting exemption to all seminary students

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis clash with police during an anti-draft protest in Bnei Brak, December 10, 2018 (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Israelis clash with police during an anti-draft protest in Bnei Brak, December 10, 2018 (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Police arrested 28 protesters during an ultra-Orthodox demonstration against the army draft that saw demonstrators disrupt traffic on a main road in the city of Bnei Brak on Monday.

Police said the demonstrators “caused disturbances and blocked roads.”

Protesters sat down in the middle of Jabotinsky Road and chanted slogans against the drafting of ultra-Orthodox community members into the army, saying, “We will die and not be drafted.”

The demonstration was organized by the extremist Jerusalem Faction, which has spearheaded protests rejecting army service, and was themed on a call for the release of draft-dodging student Yitzhak Aryeh, who was arrested by police at the end of November and has been in military prison ever since. A protest over Aryeh’s arrest was held in Jerusalem two weeks ago.

Demonstrators also demanded that no changes be made to current laws granting broad army exemptions to members of the ultra-Orthodox community who study in religious seminaries, known as yeshivas.

Police said ahead of the demonstration that they would let the event go ahead as long as it did not cause undue disruptions.

“The Israel Police will not prevent the holding of the demonstration so as to uphold citizens’ freedom of speech and protest,” the force said in a statement. “At the same time, we will not allow any disturbance of public order and will act resolutely against violence of any kind.”

Police made contingency plans in case Route 4, a major artery that passes alongside Bnei Brak, is blocked. Traffic was to be diverted along Route 471 and through the Aluf Sade junction instead.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police as they protest the army draft in Jerusalem, November 28, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Last week the High Court of Justice granted the government a month-and-a-half extension to pass a contentious new bill on the military draft of ultra-Orthodox men.

Current regulations that allow ultra-Orthodox seminary students to defer their mandatory IDF service were set to expire at the beginning of the month, and without the extension, thousands of yeshiva students would have become eligible to be drafted.

The Netanyahu government had requested a four-month extension from the High Court, saying it needed more time to pass the enlistment law in the wake of Avigdor Liberman’s sudden resignation as defense minister. Liberman also pulled his Yisrael Beytenu party out of Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving it with the minimum majority of 61 out of 120 total Knesset seats.

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

Most in the ultra-Orthodox community eschew the mandatory military service that applies to Israelis, and the community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army in favor of religious seminary studies.

Last September, the High Court ruled that a 2015 version of Israel’s draft law granting most yeshiva students exemptions from service was unconstitutional, and gave lawmakers a year to institute new guidelines for ultra-Orthodox enlistment. The court later extended the deadline, giving the government until December 2 to pass an amended version of the enlistment bill.

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