Defense minister, Yesh Atid chief go on attack after Haredim burn soldier effigy
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Defense minister, Yesh Atid chief go on attack after Haredim burn soldier effigy

Extremists in Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem torch soldier’s likeness in street protest; Lapid accuses government of ‘standing silent’

File: An effigy of an ultra-Orthodox soldier seized by police in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem on Purim, March 2, 2018 (Israel Police)
File: An effigy of an ultra-Orthodox soldier seized by police in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem on Purim, March 2, 2018 (Israel Police)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid railed against ultra-Orthodox protesters in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood who burned a soldier in effigy earlier this week.

“If in Mea Shearim they think they can deter us from working toward equal [military] service among all segments of society, they’re wrong,” Liberman said in a Tuesday tweet.

“Again and again in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem dolls are dressed up as soldiers and burned in the streets. The government of Israel continues to stand silent in the face of draft-dodging and incitement against soldiers. The government of Israel needs to come out against these phenomena publicly, but it remains silent,” Lapid tweeted.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The comments came after Hadashot TV news reported that dozens of extremist ultra-Orthodox protesters in the neighborhood blocked roads and burned an effigy of a soldier in the street.

Hashabat Square, a central junction in the heart of ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem, was shut for hours because of the protest.

In a statement, the Jerusalem Police said it “will not permit any event that seeks to cause harm to those in uniform, and will use all the means at its disposal to locate those responsible for these acts.”

The latest effigy burning comes less than three weeks after the arrest of two ultra-Orthodox protesters suspected of hanging similar effigies of IDF soldiers on three separate occasions.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid addresses the Knesset plenum on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In at least one of the incidents, the effigy was drenched in flammable liquid.

The effigies were hung from buildings in Mea Shearim.

On March 4, responding to the arrest, Liberman lambasted ultra-Orthodox politicians for failing to denounce the hanging and near-burning of the effigies.

Tensions are high in the Haredi population over legislation being pushed by the community’s lawmakers to exempt religious seminary students from compulsory military service. That bill threatened to fell the government earlier this month.

The issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment has been a contentious one in Israel, revolving around 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.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, who for decades enjoyed a blanket exemption from army service, oppose what they say is the IDF’s lax observance of Jewish laws. Recent attempts to cater to ultra-Orthodox recruits have been met with some success, rising from some 300 ultra-Orthodox enlistees each year a decade ago to some 3,000 last year. But many ultra-Orthodox soldiers still face harassment, threats, and assault when they go home on leave to Haredi neighborhoods.

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

In September, the High Court of Justice threw out a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, on the grounds that it undermined the principle of equality before the law.

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.

Liberman has rejected the demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties to craft their own bill on the subject, saying it is the responsibility of the Defense Ministry alone. A conscription bill by the ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas won preliminary approval last week in the Knesset, but will be replaced next month, when the Knesset returns from recess, by a new conscription bill to be drafted in cooperation with the Defense Ministry.

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